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Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Issues’

FRANK HARTZELL, Fort Bragg Advocate News, June 11, 2010

Rising acidity of ocean waters will wipe out the world’s coral reefs and could devastate crab, scallops and other creatures that build shells from calcium compounds in ocean waters, a top professor told a Fort Bragg audience last Friday.

San Francisco State Professor Jonathon Stillman presented figures that showed the pH balance of ocean waters has tilted toward acid in the past 20 years. That’s nearly as much as it did in the previous 200 years, which were themselves a steady but slow increase over historical levels.

The bad news could be good news for Fort Bragg’s efforts to launch a marine science study center. Millions in study funding has already been pledged by various organizations to monitor new Marine Life Protected Areas. Ocean acidification and upwelling present further tasks critical to the planet’s future that a local marine study center could help with, locals said.

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative is a public-private effort to create a connected array of new areas of the ocean where fishing uses are prohibited or restricted. The MLPAI is a private organization authorized by the state and funded by the Resources Legacy Foundation Fund to gather public input and create the proposed maps of closed areas.

Stillman presented preliminary experimental data that showed disturbing changes to mollusks, crustaceans and even fish, including decreasing shell-building and creature size.

Rising proof about the impacts of global climate change and acidification show that coral reefs will actually be melted in this century if current rates of acidification continue.

Perhaps most distressing to the crowd of about 40 people was that the life-giving upwelling off the Mendocino Coast actually adds to acidification by bringing up more acidic deep waters.

The more upwelling, the more acidic waters become.

Ocean acidification is caused by atmospheric carbon dissolving in the oceans. Ocean acidity has been rising since the beginning of the industrial revolution, as factories, cars and even cows have pumped out increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. About 30% of carbon released into the atmosphere ends up in the oceans.

Stillman was both harried and delighted by the steady barrage of questions from the audience. Many were complex and scientific in nature such as queries from geologist Skip Wollenberg and seaweed harvester Tomas DiFiore.

Everybody seemed to have a question and got an answer from the professor:

  • Do rising salinity levels contribute? Answer: No and icecap melting means salinity is actually going down.
  • What about studying the winds that drive upwelling? Answer: Important question but too tangential.

Wollenberg wanted to know if the fossil record provided any warnings of what happens when oceans get more acid. Stillman said it does, but wanted time to share important recent studies on that subject before answering, and he ran out of time, due to all the questions and discussion.

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative never came up, although, it has greatly raised local interest (and controversy) in ocean issues and local participation in solving problems with the oceans.

The talk was sponsored by COMPASS (Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea) and OST (Ocean Science Trust). COMPASS seeks to help scientists like Stillman step outside the ivory tower and communicate complex topics to the general public.

“They are an effort to provide relevant science talks to our communities — which is such a treat,” said Jeanine Pfeiffer, a locally-based college science teacher who is also outreach coordinator for MLPAI. “I personally am thrilled to have free access to the types of seminars I used to be able to see on a weekly basis at UC Davis, but are so rare here on the coast, due to our remote location.”

Stillman provided no solutions, with his handout stating that reduced carbon output is the only solution to ocean acidification (as well as rising sea levels).

More scientific study of the oceans — like that locals hope to create with a science center on the former Georgia Pacific mill site — is critical to the survival of the planet, Stillman said.

“At present we cannot adequately predict how marine ecosystems as a whole will respond to ocean acidification and our ability to deal with (acidification) depends on how well we can predict its effects,” Stillman’s handout states.

State efforts to stem global climate change and prepare for rising sea levels were explained to the crowd by Sheila Semans, project specialist with the California Ocean Protection Council, the state agency that oversees the oceans.

She explained the sweeping Global Warming Solutions Act signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 that targets emission reductions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Among important specific actions she cited was the acquisition of Bay Area wetlands, mostly from the Cargill Corporation, another public-privatized effort (like MLPAI) financed by the Resources Legacy Foundation.

Unlike Georgia Pacific at the mill site, Cargill was allowed to convey tens of thousands of acres to the state before cleaning up toxic effects of generations of salt mining.

This reporter, accompanied by dissident Bay Area local environmentalists and Department of Fish and Game employees, toured miles of these former salt marshes, which support little life in many places. The state has little funding for a cleanup that could cost a billion.

Local critics of the acquisition process for the salt marshes (such as refuge friends organizations) say they were unable to influence the centralized marketing and acquisition process. After the massive land tracts were acquired amid much fanfare, problems with the amount paid and the extent of the cleanup needed emerged, as local critics had predicted.

The MLPAI effort pledges better follow up study, but many locals remain skeptical that study dollars or efforts will involve locals and those with hands-on familiarity with the local ocean.

– For an overview of climate change: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/

– California Climate Change portal: http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/

The site with videos addressing rising sea levels (and other topics): http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/visualization/index.html

– Cargill acquisition: http://baynature.org/articles/jul-sep-2007/highway-to-the-flyway/napa-sonoma-marshes

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MARSHA WALTON, MNN.com, June 8, 2010

The last thing that supporters of a promising renewable energy source want is a technology that harms wildlife.

So before wave energy buoys are deployed off the Oregon coast, scientists and developers want to make sure that 18,000 migrating gray whales are not put in jeopardy.

These whales, weighing 30 to 40 tons each, make a twice-yearly journey, heading south to breed off Baja, Mexico, in winter, and back up to the Pacific Northwest in spring.

Biologist Bruce Mate wants to find out if a low power underwater noise can be used effectively to nudge the whales away from wave energy devices.

“We want them to turn their headlights on,” says Mate, director of Oregon State’s Marine Mammal Institute.

Mate says the “whoop-whoop-whoop” sound being tested “is designed to be something unnatural. We don’t want them to think of it as background noise, as a wave, or as another animal. We want it to be something that is disconcerting,” he says.

Disconcerting enough so that the animals would move a few hundred yards away from the energy-capturing buoys, expected to weigh about 200 tons.

The underwater cables on these wave buoys are solid, 4 to 6 inches in diameter. Mate says a gray whale swimming 3 to 4 mph could be seriously hurt if it collided with a cable.

Mate has a grant from the Department of Energy to test whether the acoustic device is the right strategy to keep whales and buoys away from each other. Tests will begin in late December, and end before mothers and calves migrate north in May.

The noise-making device, about the size of a cantaloupe, will be located about 75 feet below the ocean surface, moored in about 140 feet of water. During the testing, it will make noise for three seconds a minute, six hours a day.

Gray whales stick close to shore, about 2.5 to 3 miles away. Swimming farther out, they can become lunch for killer whales.

During the tests, researchers will use theodolites, surveying instruments that measure horizontal and vertical angles. Mate says the animals’ actions should be fairly easy to observe as they encounter the noise.

“These animals track very straight lines during migration. They are motivated to get to the other end,” he says.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses wave energy technologies, and dozens of agencies oversee how this technology will affect ocean life.

“Wave energy developers are required to undergo a rigorous permitting process to install both commercial-scale and pilot projects,” says Thomas Welch of the Department of Energy (DOE).

Ocean Power Technologies is set to deploy the first of 10 energy-generating buoys off Reedsport, Ore., later this year.

Wave energy developers say they have worked with conservation groups from the start, dealing with everything from whales to erosion.

“As an untapped renewable resource there is tremendous potential,” says Justin Klure, a partner at Pacific Energy Ventures, a company that advances the ocean energy industry.

A believer in clean energy, Klure says it is imperative that the technology be the least disruptive.

“Nobody knows if a large buoy or any other technology is going to have an impact on an ecosystem. A misstep early could set back the industry. This is hard work, it’s expensive, if you don’t have a solid foundation, we feel, that is going to cost you later,” he says.

Klure says the industry has studied how other energy development, including wind and solar, have dealt with environmental challenges.

“I think the lesson here is how critical project siting is. It’s the same concept as land use planning for the ocean. Where are the most sensitive ecosystems? Where are areas that need to be preserved for recreation, or commercial fishing?” Klure says.

It will likely be five to 10 years before wave energy provides significant electricity production. But the acoustics research by Mate could provide help to animals, reaching beyond the Pacific coast.

“We certainly hope it has broader uses,” Mate says. If the sounds do move animals to safety, similar devices could be used to lure whales back from shallow waters if they are in danger of stranding — or even help whales or other marine mammals skirt the poisons of a large oil spill.

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JENNIFER DART, Westerly News, June 3, 2010

Several groups working on wave energy on the British Columbia coast gathered in Ucluelet this week to discuss developments in the industry and update local projects.

Representatives from the non-profit Ocean Renewable Energy Group (OREG) chaired the community open house, held June 1 at the Ucluelet Community Centre.

Also in attendance were academics, developers, and representatives from all levels of government, including the Yuu-cluth-aht First Nation and the District of Ucluelet.

OREG executive director Chris Campbell said developing the technology to harness energy from the ocean is a “long, slow process,” but Canadian companies are active internationally, “so it’s gradually becoming more and more real.”

The Ucluelet/Tofino area has long been considered an ideal site for an ocean renewable energy project given its coastal location and proximity to the BC Hydro grid.

“Ocean renewable energy is something that’s been making rattling noises for quite a few years in our area,” said Ucluelet mayor Eric Russcher. “It would be a new and different world we live in but an exciting prospect for us all.”

According to information from OREG, preliminary studies indicate the wave energy potential off Canada’s Pacific Coast is equal to approximately half of Canada’s electricity consumption.

There seems to be a new energy behind wave power in recent months, given in part to new advances in technology, and also specifically in B.C. because of the Liberal government’s Clean Energy Act, which has been tabled in the legislature but has yet to be passed.

Jeff Turner from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources said the Act is meant to achieve energy efficiency while maintaining low rates, generate employment in the clean energy sector, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While critics of the Act say it gives the province oversight on major projects like the Site C dam on the Peace River and could be mean higher hydro rates, the announcement has helped kick start development in areas like wave energy, where researchers are currently focused on pinpointing potential outputs.

Two wave energy projects are in development on the West Coast; one for the waters off Ucluelet and one in close proximity to the Hesquiaht communities at Hesquiaht Harbour and Hot Springs Cove.

John Gunton of SyncWave Systems Inc. presented his company’s plan for the SyncWave Power Resonator, a buoy class device that would be slack moored in depths of up to 200 metres. Simply put, this device captures energy from the upward and downward motion of the wave. Gunton said the company has provincial and federal funding, but is looking for a $3 million investment to complete its first two phases of development for placement near Hesquiaht Point.

A test resonator placed eight kilometres off Ucluelet in 40 metres of waters in December was collecting data for a period of about one month until a mast on it was destroyed. It was repaired, upgraded and redeployed in late April and a website will be set up by a group called the West Coast Wave Collaboration that is comprised of academics and industry representatives to transmit power data. Local partners in this project include the Ucluth Development Corporation, the District of Ucluelet and Black Rock Resort.

The other technology is a near shore device, placed in depths of 35 to 50 metres. The CETO device is owned by Carnegie Wave Energy of Australia, and was presented by David King at the open house. Seven metre cylinders capture wave energy and pump it to an onshore turbine. A government grant will also assist in the development of this technology.

But Jessica McIvoy of OREG said there are many questions left to be answered including what are the impacts on the ocean environment and sea life of such devices, and in turn how will the devices last in the ocean?

Campbell said an adaptive management approach to the technology seems like the best option to proceed with preliminary work, taking into account “critical indicators” in the natural environment.

Yuu-cluth-aht chief councillor Vi Mundy said she’s interested in these indicators after hearing concerns from her community, from fishers for example: “I’m hearing questions like what kind of impact will there be and what kind of standards have been developed so far [in the wave energy industry].”

But she also noted young people in her community are asking for green development that will provide year round employment.

“It’s really good to see that in young people,” Mundy said.

Anyone with questions about wave technology on the coast is invited to contact OREG at questions@oreg.ca.

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GAYATHRI VAIDYANATHAN, New York Times, March 2, 2010

Harnessing the ocean waves for emission-free power seems like a tidy concept, but the ocean is anything but tidy. Waves crash from multiple directions on a seemingly random basis, and converting the kinetic energy into electricity is a frontier of alternative energy research that requires grappling with large unknowns.

But with several utility companies and states, and in one case, the U.S. Navy, investing in wave power, or hydrokinetic energy, may not be too far off in the utility mix. At least two companies hope to reach commercial deployments within the next three to five years.

Off the coast of Orkney, Scotland, is the Oyster, a white- and yellow-flapped cylinder, 40 feet tall and firmly locked into the ocean’s bed. With a total of seven moving parts, two of which are pistons, it captures waves as they near the coast. Oyster funnels them into a pipe and carries the power inland to a hydroelectric power generator. The generator has been supplying the United Kingdom’s grid with 315 kilowatts of energy at peak power since October.

A farm of up to 100 Oysters could yield 100 megawatts, according to Aquamarine Power, the Scottish company that developed the technology.

“From an environmental perspective, in the sea you have a very simple machine that uses no oil, no chemicals, no electromagnetic radiation,” said Martin McAdam, CEO of Aquamarine.

The Oyster provides a tiny fraction of the 250 gigawatts of power that the water is capable of providing, including conventional hydroelectric energy by 2030, according to the United Nations. At least 25 gigawatts of that will come from marine renewables, according to Pike Research, a clean technology market research group. The non-conservative estimate is as much as 200 gigawatts. And 2015 will be the benchmark year to determine which of these estimates will be true.

The field of hydrokinetic power has a number of companies such as Aquamarine, all with unique designs and funded by utility companies, government grants and venture capitalists. If at least 50% of these projects come online by 2015, marine power could supply 2.7 gigawatts to the mix, according to Pike Research. A gigawatt is the electrical output of a large nuclear power plant.

‘PowerBuoy’ joins the Marines

There are six marine renewable technologies currently under development that aim to take advantage of ocean waves, tides, rivers, ocean currents, differences in ocean temperatures with depth, and osmosis.

“The energy landscape is going to be a mix of different energy sources, with an increasing proportion coming from renewables,” said Charles Dunleavy, CEO of Ocean Power Technologies, a New Jersey-based research group also developing wave energy. “We aim to be a very big part of this.”

The company has been testing its wave energy device, called the PowerBuoy, in the ocean since 2005. It recently launched another device a mile offshore from the island of Oahu in Hawaii and connected it to the power grid of the U.S. Marine Corps base. It now supplies 40 kilowatts of energy at peak, enough to power about 25 to 30 homes.

“The Navy wants to reduce its reliance on imported fossil fuel; they have a strong need to establish greater energy independence,” said Dunleavy.

The buoy captures the energy from right-sized waves (between 3 and 22 feet tall), which drive a hydraulic pump. The pump converts the motion into electricity in the ocean using a generator embedded into its base. A subsea cable transfers the power to the electrical grid. A buoy farm of 30 acres could yield 10 megawatts of energy, enough to supply 8,000 homes, said Dunleavy.

The structures rise 30 feet above water, and extend 115 feet down. They would not be a problem for commercial trawlers, which are farther offshore, or for ship navigation lanes, said Dunleavy. Recreational boaters, however, may have to watch out.

‘Oyster’ competes with the ‘top end of wind’

In comparison with a system such as the Oyster that brings water ashore to power turbines, creating electricity in the ocean is more efficient, said Dunleavy. “You lose a lot of energy to friction,” he said.

But Aquamarine’s system of having onshore power generation will cut down on maintenance costs, according to McAdam. Operation costs are expected to consume as much as 40% of the budget of operating a marine power plant, according to Pike Research.

Ocean Power is already selling its device for individual commercial use and building larger units of 150 kilowatts off the West Coast of the United States and for the utility company Iberdrola’s unit in Spain.

It is also developing the first wave power station under the Department of Energy’s stimulus program at Reedsport, Ore., according to Dunleavy. The farm, which currently has a 150-kilowatt unit, could grow by nine additional buoys.

And as for price, which is a major concern, Dunleavy said that cost compares with other renewables.

“It is cheaper than solar thermal and photovoltaics, and in the range of biomass,” he said. “It is at the top end of wind.”

The Oyster is also aiming to position itself as an alternative to wind power for utilities. McAdam said that by 2013, his company hopes to be a competitor to offshore wind installations. And by 2015, he hopes to compete with onshore wind.

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TIM STELLOH, North Coast Journal, January 28, 2010

“Consensus” isn’t a word that comes to mind with the Marine Life Protection Act, Mendocino County branch.

Consider a Monday night meeting in Fort Bragg, where fishermen, seaweeders and enviros convened at St. Micheal’s Episcopal Church to do one thing: figure out which areas along the Mendocino Coast to “protect” — that is, which coastline to turn into no-take reserves and protected areas that limit or block fishing and harvesting, as required under MLPA.

Brevity was important. So was compromise, as the deadline is Feb. 1 for Mendocino, Del Norte and Humboldt counties — together the North Coast region of the MLPA — to officially make their choices as a single, unified group. If the coalition blows the deadline, the state will have a whole lot more power to make those decisions for them — particularly for Mendocino, said Jennifer Savage of the Ocean Conservancy. (Ed. note: Savage is the Journal’s art and poverty columnist.)

This process, of course, has been mired in conflict. Fishermen, seafood harvesters and other critics have called the science behind those protected zones — which the state says should be about nine square miles every 30 to 60 miles — bogus. They’ve described the process as an unfair, underfunded burden on communities, as obfuscatory and hostile to public input. Some have described the entire premise of MLPA as, at best, misguided and, at worst, a conspiracy to wrest control of California’s coast. On the flip side, enviros say the process has been transparent, and the protected areas are necessary to safeguard against overfishing and other harmful activities.

Del Norte has done just fine in deciding which parts of its coast to protect. Humboldt has slogged through. Then there’s Mendocino, which, let’s just say, has had a few problems.

It was about about two and a half hours into the Monday meeting when the mood soured. Bill Lemos, a local teacher who’s working with National Resources Defense Council (or “Big Green,” as MLPA foes call it) and Conservation First!, had, using a computer model map and projector, just cataloged all the areas he thought suitable for protection — areas near Cape Vizcaino and Pt. Cabrillo, among others.

A group of fishermen from the Salmon Trollers Marketing Association weren’t having it. Until now, most of them had, well, been fishing, and unable to attend any of the create-your-own map meetings that recently began, said Ben Platt, a salmon and crab fisherman. No longer. Were the state to implement one of Lemos’s suggestions near Usal Beach, he said, they’d lose 80% of their crab.

“That would gut the crabbing area,” another fisherman said. “I don’t know why you’d even put that up there.”

Another fisherman chimed in: “We’ve got to take in the economic value of our community. Commercial, recreational, everyone here. We’re supposed to be doing adaptive management not protective management — ”

Lemos had had enough.

“Folks, we’ve been through this before. We walked out of this meeting before saying, ‘We are not here to take your negative input,'” Lemos said, referring to a meeting earlier this month that ended on less than cordial terms. “We’re here to share with you what our ideas are. We understand that these [changes] will cause you to be less active in the ocean and cause you some economic hardship. We understand that part of it. But folks, these are coming from somewhere, and we are trying to adapt them to places that would have the least impact. Thank you for your input, but I really don’t want to be here all night arguing with you. We’ve done the best we can.”

Another debate followed — one that shows how bewildering the process is: Just how much coastline does the state require that the North Coast region set aside in order to comply with MLPA rules? And just how important is that rule anyway? According to Dave Wright, a recreational fisherman, it’s not a top priority.

Lemos disagreed.

Even though there’s not a strict number, for the next echelon of scientists to even consider the map of protected coastline — the one that’s due in under a week — 15% of the North Coast should be protected, he said, adding that even that would be on the low end. In other parts of the California coast where MLPA has been implemented, between 16% and 22% of coastline has been turned into reserves and protected areas.

“I thought they were re-evaluating that for the North Coast,” Wright said. “Aren’t they re-evaluating that?”

“I don’t know,” Lemos said.

And that’s pretty much where the meeting ended — almost an hour past the scheduled end time, with no apparent compromise and no single, unified map.

Which gives Mendocino’s many coastal stakeholders even less time. If they don’t pull an all-nighter between now and next Monday and come up with that map, several maps will have to be submitted to begin the slow slog through the MLPA bureaucracy toward the final destination: a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the state, and the Department of Fish and Game, which the MLPA is officially part of.

With that last-gasp, non-public effort just days away, Jeanine Pfeiffer, the UC Davis scientist who’s been moderating the discussions, had a stern warning to Mendocino’s enviros: “If we fail to protect our cultural heritage — which in this region means small-scale fisheries, coastal towns and Native American tribes — if we fail to protect our cultural heritage with the same passion and attention as our biological heritage, then we’re not doing our best,” she said.

Ladies and gents, get your NoDoz.

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JOHN UPTON, San Francisco Examiner, January 28, 2010

Tracking gray whales as they migrate past the San Francisco shoreline will help provide key information for a proposed plan to for a wave energy farm.

The mammals — which can grow up to 50 feet long, weigh up to 40 tons and are considered endangered on the West Coast — migrate between the Alaskan coast to the shores off Mexico, where they give birth to their young.

During their travels, the whales pass near Ocean Beach — but there is a lack of information about exactly where.

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories researchers will partner with San Francisco and track the mammals’ depth and distance from the shoreline using visual surveys and satellite tracking devices. A review of existing scientific literature will also be undertaken.

“There’s a fair amount of data on gray whales down around Monterey,” San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Project Manager Randall Smith said. “But there’s a data gap off the San Francisco coastline.”

The study will help city officials decide how and where to safely place an array of potentially-revolutionary underwater devices that might eventually deliver power as cheaply as solar panels.

The farm would capture and convert into electricity the power of arctic storm-generated waves as they pulse toward Ocean Beach.

A wide variety of devices are being developed worldwide that could help capture the wave power: Some bob near the surface, others float midwater like balloons, and a third type undulates like kelp along the seafloor.

Learning about gray whale migration patterns will help officials determine which devices would minimize the risk of whale collisions and decide where they should be located.

Research by UC Berkeley professor Ronald Yeung previously identified Ocean Beach as having strong potential for the nascent form of energy generation.

A wave study completed by San Francisco city contractors in December confirmed the site’s potential, according to Smith.

“Potentially, we could do a 30-megawatt wave farm out there,” Smith said.

The timelines and investment structure of the wave project are unclear, largely because the U.S. Minerals Management Service — which historically managed gas and oil deposits — was recently charged with regulating offshore renewable energy projects.

While the SFPUC waits for the service to finalize its permit application procedures, it’s forging ahead with an environmental review of the project required by California law, which includes the whale study.

Gray whales – the giant mammals are an endangered species.

Annual migration: 10,000 miles
Length: Up to 50 feet
Weight: Up to 80,000 pounds
Lifespan: In excess of 75 years
Maturity: Six to 12 years
Gestation: 12 to 13 months
Newborn calves: 14 to 16 feet long; 2,000 pounds

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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MICHAEL COLLINS, Ventura County Star, January 18, 2010

Americans’ insatiable love of seafood is back on the federal government’s plate.

Five years after former President George W. Bush’s administration first proposed allowing fish farming in federal waters, the Obama administration is set to come up with its own set of rules for offshore aquaculture, including deepwater fish farming.

The new rules, which are expected to spell out a permitting process for offshore aquaculture operations, could come as early as this summer, said Michael Rubino, manager of the aquaculture program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We’re looking at this whole question of aquaculture in federal waters — how to go about it,” Rubino said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, has filed legislation that would establish a regulatory framework for aquaculture operations in federal waters, which begin three miles beyond the nation’s shores.

Capps’ proposal not only lays out the permitting process for offshore aquaculture facilities, but also contains environmental safeguards to see that any such projects pose a minimal risk to ocean ecology — a concern that derailed the Bush administration’s efforts.

“It is important to take a strong public health standard approach and make sure we have food safety and environmental protection as a basis for any kind of aquaculture project that would come up,” Capps said.

Ocean fish farming has long been seen by advocates as a way to guarantee a plentiful bounty of seafood even as a number of wild fish stocks decline. An estimated 80% of all edible seafood supplies in the United States is imported, and nearly half of all seafood is farmed, according to the San Diego-based Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute.

Right now, fish farming is limited to state waters, which begin at the shoreline and extend out for three miles.

In 2005, the Bush administration proposed allowing fish-farming operations up to 200 miles off the coast, which would have marked the first time such facilities would have been permitted in federal waters.

But that proposal, and subsequent plans, died in Congress in large part because of environmental concerns associated with fish farming, such as the discharge of waste and the use of pesticides, antibiotics and other potentially harmful chemicals.

Capps objected to the Bush plan because of the environmental issues and a belief that it was too closely tied to the fishing industry. “They wanted to go out of their way to see that industry was satisfied,” she said.

In contrast, the congresswoman’s aides say, her proposal offers a comprehensive policy that spells out the permitting process for aquaculture facilities while putting in place standards for environmental, public health and consumer protection.

Under the Capps plan, a special office to deal with offshore aquaculture would be established within the National Marine Fisheries Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

The office would be responsible for implementing the aquaculture permitting and regulatory program, as well as conducting environmental impact studies for each region of the country. The studies would determine which locations are appropriate for offshore aquaculture, the type of fish suitable for farming in each region and the impact such projects would have on other marine life.

Aquaculture permits would be good for 10 years and could be renewed for subsequent 10-year periods. Permit holders would be required to report fish escapes, the prevalence of disease and parasites and the use of any antibiotics, pesticides or other drugs and chemicals.

By putting in place a comprehensive regulatory framework, “It will be very clear to all of the stakeholders what the rules of the game are,” Capps said.

President of Hubbs-SeaWorld, said Capps’ bill would create “a regulatory jumble” because some of the safeguards it would put in place already are covered by other federal agencies.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, for example, already regulate the use of antibiotics, he said.

The additional requirements would be so cumbersome that, if the proposal were to become law as written, “there won’t be an (aquaculture) industry in federal waters in the United States,” he said. “I won’t do it under the existing bill.’’

Hubbs-SeaWorld had wanted several years ago to set up an experimental fish farm on Platform Grace — an old oil rig about 10 miles off the coast of Ventura County — to raise California yellowtail, bluefin tuna and striped bass. The project eventually was abandoned, however.

The research institute also has put on hold plans for a commercial fish farm five miles off the San Diego coast in light of the Obama administration’s announcement that it is developing an aquaculture policy.

Capps’ office responded to his concerns by saying the congresswoman’s proposal attempts to legislate “a common sense national framework for aquaculture” and that it is the result of a collaboration with environmental and consumer groups, the scientific community, the aquaculture industry and others.

The congresswoman will continue to work with all stakeholders as the process moves forward, said her spokeswoman, Emily Spain.

Rubino said NOAA has no comment on the Capps proposal, other than to reiterate that the administration prefers a national approach to aquaculture instead of a region by region approach.

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 11, 2010

In December, Obama’s Ocean Policy Task Force published it’s Interim Framework and approach for waterways, oceans and all things marine.

WASHINGTON – President Obama’s Ocean Policy Task Force released its Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (Interim Framework) today for a 60-day public review and comment period. With competing interests in the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes, the Interim Framework offers a comprehensive, integrated approach to planning and managing uses and activities. Under the Framework, coastal and marine spatial planning would be regional in scope, developed cooperatively among Federal, State, tribal, local authorities, and regional governance structures, with substantial stakeholder and public input.

What jumps out at me is the 60-day public REVIEW and COMMENT period.

If you care about our oceans, waterways and coasts, I hope you’ll read the report (read what is interesting to you) and consider commenting, participating. The 60-day public review and comment period ends February 12, 2010.

I’ll be reading it.

To read the Ocean Policy Task Force Releases Interim Framework & more, click on this link and keep digging for the actual report link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/oceans

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HELON ALTONN, Honolulu Star Bulletin, December 27, 2009

The ocean is becoming a noisier place due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, California and Hawaii scientists report.

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans not only has increased seawater acidity but has affected its acoustics—making it more transparent to low-frequency sound, the scientists said in a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Scientists said seawater sound absorption will drop by up to 70% this century.

“It was surprising to us,” said Richard Zeebe, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans increases acidity, or hydrogen ion concentration, and as the acidity rises, it lowers the seawater pH (a measure of acidity), researchers said.

“Certain chemical compounds in the ocean absorb sound and affect sound propagation,” Zeebe said. “Frequencies can get louder and more intense, depending on the chemistry.”

Not all frequencies will be affected, he said, explaining pH changes mostly affect sounds in the lower frequency range.

SOEST researcher Tatiana Ilyina said the pH of surface seawater will drop by 0.6 units by the year 2100 at the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions, with a one-unit drop of pH representing a tenfold increase of acidity.

“As a result, the absorption of 200 Hz sound would decrease by up to 70%,” she said, noting the middle C of the piano is tuned to 261.6 Hz. Sound around that frequency is produced by natural phenomena such as rain, wind and waves, and marine mammals and manmade activities, she said.

Naval, commercial and scientific activities use low-frequency sound and marine mammals rely on low-frequency sound to find food and mates, the scientists said.

“As a result, ocean acidification may not only affect organisms at the bottom of the food chain by reducing calcification in plankton and corals, but also higher tropic-level species, such as marine mammals, by lowering sound absorption in the ocean,” they said.

Zeebe said: “The consequences of these changes on marine mammals is not well known at the moment. There is a lot of background noise in the ocean generated by humans—ship noise, construction, seismic surveys and sonar—and this noise will essentially increase in volume in the ocean in the future.

“If the noise level increases, it can distract species,” he said. “If they’re trying to identify certain sounds in the ocean important for them for reproduction, feeding or something, and if the background noise is increasing, it could essentially cover certain sounds they depend on. This is a possibility.”

Another possibility is that marine mammals may be able to communicate over larger distances in the lower frequency range if sound absorption is decreased because underwater sounds can travel farther than at the surface, he said.

“Also, there are commercial and scientific applications, seismic surveys, that probably will have to take into account that future sound propagation in the ocean will slowly change,” Zeebe said, adding that more study is needed to determine the effects of the ocean acoustics changes.

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Editor’s Note: In late December 2009, the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco vacated their home on the floating piers. This article may shed some light on what’s happening on the SF coast and the reasons for their leaving.  Like many others, we wonder where they went and for what reasons.

PETER FIMRITE, San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2009

By Bierstadt AlbertA humpback whale that suddenly rose out of the water and splashed down near the Farallon Islands provided a research vessel full of scientists with a surprising bonanza of research data.

“Whale poop!” shouted several researchers in unison, as biologists scrambled to collect the floating reddish specimens Saturday as part of a comprehensive study of the ocean’s ecology off the Northern California coast.

The color of the whale excrement meant that the huge creature had been feeding mostly on a tiny shrimp-like crustacean called krill instead of fish and anchovies, its preferred food in recent decades. It is a change in diet that several bird species at the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge are unable to make, according to researchers in a joint ocean survey by the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and PRBO Conservation Science.

As a result, colonies of fish-eating cormorants, seagulls and murres failed to breed this year on the Farallon Islands. Over the past few months, dozens of dead birds and even sea lions have been found on local beaches.

Anchovies have disappeared, and scientists don’t know why. The researchers on the vessel believe that, in their absence, birds and mammals like humpback whales that eat krill are thriving while the ones that are eating only fish are in trouble, and the whale excrement served as evidence.

“We’ve had an extraordinary number of dead animals,” said Jan Roletto, the research coordinator for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. “It seems to be that the animals that suffered the most were the animals that forage on anchovies.”

Brandt’s cormorants, a black bird with white plumes that can dive as deep as 300 feet for its prey, did not produce any chicks this year on the Farallones or on Alcatraz. That’s compared with 15,000 chicks in 2007.

Breeding fails

For the anchovy-loving bird, it was the first complete breeding failure in 40 years during a year without El Niño conditions so far, according to scientists at PRBO, formerly known as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory.

Western gulls and common murres produced about one-seventh of the number of chicks they normally hatch. Researchers on the Farallones reported an increase in predation on the chicks that were produced, mainly because the parents were too far away looking for food.

Beachgoers probably noticed the death toll. Six to eight times the normal number of dead cormorants and sea lions were found on Bay Area beaches in May, June and July, according to researchers. The death toll in each case involves birds and marine mammals that prey on anchovies and other fish.

The deaths and breeding failures are all the more troubling because there appears to be plenty of krill, rockfish and other prey species to feed the seagoing birds and mammals.

Jaime Jahncke, the director of marine ecology for PRBO, said common murres had previous breeding failures in 1982-83 and in 1991-92, but both times the problems were linked to El Niño, a weather condition associated with warmer ocean temperatures and atmospheric conditions that cause heavy storms. Although forecasters say an El Niño is forming in the tropics, it has not yet hit California, Jahncke said.

No explanation

“I don’t know what it means, but it’s not good,” Jahncke said. “There are a lot of changes happening, and none of them have a clear explanation.”

Seagoing birds and mammals near the Farallon Islands depend on krill, anchovies and other prey that are attracted to conditions produced when cold, deep ocean currents bounce off the underwater outcropping called the Cordell Bank, forcing nutrients upward. The nutrients are most abundant during the transition from winter to spring.

Spring arrives an average of 20 days earlier than it did in 1970, Jahncke said. There has also been an increase in the strength of the upwellings over the past two decades, he said.

Apart from the lack of anchovies, that is probably a good thing.

The team of scientists on the boat spotted several blue whales before the humpback put on its show.

The abundance of blue whales, which feed almost exclusively on krill, and the evidence provided by the humpback made it clear that there is plenty of krill in the ocean.

“Whales primarily over the last decade have been feeding on fish,” said Lisa Etherington, the research coordinator for the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. “The last couple of years they’ve been feeding on krill. We don’t know why.”

Wild fluctuations

Jahncke said salmon smolt also feed on krill, a fact that may or may not help the beleaguered Central Coast chinook. The Cassin’s auklet, a small, chunky seabird that feeds on krill, had above-average nesting success this year.

But wild fluctuations are now almost normal, according to the researchers, who are concerned that the El Niño predicted for next year will cause a further decline in the numbers of birds.

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Fire Earth, December 28, 2009

Photo by Sally & Doug Morrison

Image by Sally & Doug Morrison

About 30 pilot whales died after they became stranded on Coromandel peninsula yesterday and will be buried by the local Maori.

Meanwhile, up to 120 long-finned pilot whales, both calves and adults, were found dead  at the Farewell Spit on Boxing Day.

“More offshore wells have been drilled in the last two years than the rest of the decade combined: 35 on and offshore wells were drilled between January 2008 and July 2009 alone,” said a report.

Each year about 2.5 million tourists visit New Zealand, straining its fragile ecosystems to the breaking point, creating a massive litany of different types of pollution, including noise.

Mendo Coast Current wrote: “Studies show that these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of miles to forage and mate, are losing touch with each other, the experts said at a U.N. wildlife conference in Rome.”

“The sound of a seismic test, used to locate hydrocarbons beneath the seabed, can spread 1,800 miles under water, said Veronica Frank, an official with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. A study by her group found that the blue whale, which used to communicate across entire oceans, has lost 90% of its range over the past 40 years.”

Environmental experts are studying numerous cases of beached whales and dolphins that are believed to have been caused by sound pollution, according to Simmonds.

Just two weeks ago at least five whales died after nine were beached in Mediterranean off the southern coast off Italy, an unusual place for whales to beach themselves.

‘A massive beaching is extremely rare in the Mediterranean,’ biologist Maurizio Wurtz at the University of Genoa said.

Noise pollution from seismic surveys for oil and gas as well as naval activities are believed to have confused whales by interfering  with their communication, thus leaving them stranded and ultimately dead,  many  Conservationists and biologists say.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) says man-made ocean noise inhibits cetaceans’ communication and disrupts their feeding.

The level of ocean noise in some regions is doubling each decade, according to IFAW.  “Humanity is literally drowning out marine mammals.”

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FRANK HARTZELL, Mendocino Beacon, December 17, 2009

The Obama administration has launched a new “zoning” approach that puts all ocean activities under the umbrella of nine regional planning bodies.

Public comments are being accepted through Friday, Feb. 12.

The approach is more local and integrated than the current strategy, which puts separate functions under different federal agencies. But it remains to be seen how such a plan can satisfy a plethora of federal laws that now protect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.

The issue of whales killed by ships (like the blue whale kill in October off Fort Bragg) is cited in the new report as an example of how the regional planning approach could solve problems that single agencies cannot.

In the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off Boston, the Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and several other government agencies and stakeholders reconfigured the Boston Traffic Separation Scheme, after numerous fatal collisions between marine mammals and ships.

This kind of joint action is what the new Obama approach anticipates using nationwide.

The reconfigured shipping lanes reduced risk of collision by an estimated 81% for all baleen whales and 58% for endangered right whales, studies show.

NOAA is the lone federal agency dealing with the whale kill issue locally, working with two state agencies, which have regulations that are inconsistent. With the Fort Bragg incident highlighting weaknesses in the regulatory process, a regional board could propose solutions.

In another example of oversight conflict, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) planned and launched a policy for wave energy leasing completely without local governments’ knowledge. Other federal agencies also bombarded FERC with criticism and problems their federal fellow had failed to anticipate when FERC’s program came to light.

The Obama administration’s idea is to bring all the federal and local agencies to the table at the planning stage, not the reactive stage.

“The uses of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes have expanded exponentially over time,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who also heads the Ocean Policy Task Force. “At the same time they are facing environmental challenges, including pollution and habitat destruction, that make them increasingly vulnerable.

“Without an improved, more thoughtful approach, we risk an increase in user conflicts and the potential loss of critical economic, ecosystem, social, and cultural benefits for present and future generations,” said Sutley, in a press release.

Many scientific studies have called for ocean zoning, but this is the first effort to make the idea work.

California, Oregon and Washington would be included in a single planning area The participants in the planning process, such as Indian tribes, federal agencies, states and local entities, would be asked to sign a contract modeled on development agreements.

Development agreements are widely used by housing developers to bring all county and state permitting agencies to the table so they can get loans and prepare to launch a project.

Sutley said the administration will reconvene the National Ocean Council to work with the regional planning bodies.

While the new approach promises more locally responsive planning, the job of the National Ocean Council will be to ensure that planning is consistent from region to region. That is likely to create some conflicts with monied interests representing some uses, such as oil drilling, and leave other uses with less ability to advocate at the table.

The proposal comes from the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, established by President Obama on June 12. It is led by Sutley and consists of 24 senior-level officials from administration agencies, departments and offices.

The task force’s interim framework is available for a 60-day public review and comment period. After the close of the comment period, the task force will finalize its recommendations in both this report and the Sept. 10 interim report and provide a final report to the President in early 2010.

For more details on the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, including the interim framework, and to submit comments, visit www.whitehouse.gov/oceans.

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BBC News, November 24, 2009

Three UK groups studying climate change have issued a strong statement about the dangers of failing to cut emissions of greenhouse gases across the world.

The Royal Society, Met Office, and Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) say the science of climate change is more alarming than ever.

They say the 2007 UK floods, 2003 heatwave in Europe and recent droughts were consistent with emerging patterns.

Their comments came ahead of crunch UN climate talks in Copenhagen next month.

‘Loss of wildlife’

In a statement calling for action to cut carbon emissions, institutions said evidence for “dangerous, long-term and potentially irreversible climate change” was growing.

Global carbon dioxide levels have continued to rise, Arctic summer ice cover was lower in 2007 and 2008 than in the previous few decades, and the last decade has been the warmest on average for 150 years.

The best thing we could do is to prepare for the worst. Build better flood defences in vulnerable areas Lee, Bracknell

Persistent drought in Australia and rising sea levels in the Maldives were further indicators of possible future patterns, they said.

They argue that without action there will be much larger changes in the coming decades, with the UK seeing higher food prices, ill health, more flooding and rising sea levels.

Known or probable damage across the world includes ocean acidification, loss of rainforests, degradation of ecosystems and desertification, they said.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the world faced more droughts, floods, loss of wildlife, rising seas and refugees.

But Professor Julia Slingo, chief scientist of the Met Office, Professor Alan Thorpe, Nerc’s chief executive, and Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, said cutting emissions could substantially limit the severity of climate change.

Copenhagen summit

Prof Slingo told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the importance of the statement was that “it emphasises that whilst global mean temperature changes may not sound very large, the regional consequences of those are very great indeed”.

She said: “As the inter-governmental panel on climate change stated very clearly in 2007, without substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions we can likely, very likely, expect a world of increasing droughts, floods, species loss, rising seas [and] displaced human populations.

“What this statement says very clearly is that some of those things, whilst we can’t directly attribute them at the moment to global warming, are beginning to happen.”

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RICHARD BLACK with MendoCoastCurrent edits, BBC News, November 24, 2009

US President Barack Obama will announce a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions before next month’s UN climate summit, according to a White House official.

The target is expected to be in line with figures contained in legislation before the Senate – a reduction of about 17-20% from 2005 levels by 2020.

The absence of a US target has widely been seen as the single biggest obstacle to agreement at the summit.

At the weekend, the hosts of the Copenhagen conference announced that more than 60 heads of state and government had pledged to take part in the two-week negotiating session.

Mr. Obama will join them as it appears that his presence would increase chances of the 192 parties reaching agreement, the official indicated.

“There’s been recognition that if we want to keep momentum going, numbers have to be put on the table,” said Peter Bahouth, executive director of the US Climate Action Network, a network of organisations lobbying for action on the issue.

“There’s been pressure for the US to come (to Copenhagen) with its hands full rather than empty, and I think what we’re seeing are the results of that.”

In the last week, Mr. Obama has discussed climate change with a number of other world leaders including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Hu Jintao of China and Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Domestic delays

Although Mr. Obama campaigned on a promise to cut emissions, and pledged global leadership on climate change on assuming office, the US position has been constrained by delays in putting legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions through Congress.

The House of Representatives passed a bill in June that would cap emissions and establish a national carbon trading scheme.

But progress of a similar bill through the Senate is not likely before March at the earliest.

Administration officials have indicated that the targets are being discussed with senior senators in an attempt to ensure that the Senate will back whatever target Mr. Obama takes to Copenhagen.

It is not clear when the target will emerge, but there are now less than two weeks before the summit opens on December 7, 2009.

There will also be pressure internationally for the US to say how much money it is prepared to transfer to poorer countries to help them fight climate change, as it is bound to do under the UN climate convention.

Cutting edge

In the UN climate process, targets are conventionally given in comparison with 1990 levels of emissions.

On that basis, the likely US figure amounts to a cut of just a few percent, as emissions have risen by about 15% since 1990.

This is much less than the EU’s pledge of a 20% cut over the same period, or a 30% cut if there is a global deal; and much less than the 25-40% figure that developing countries are demanding.

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Endangered species’ communication critical to survival

ARIEL DAVID, Seattle Post Intelligence, December 8, 2008

Whale-460_980418cThe songs that whales and dolphins use to communicate, orient themselves and find mates are being drowned out by human-made noises in the world’s oceans, U.N. officials and environmental groups said Wednesday.

That sound pollution — everything from increasing commercial shipping and seismic surveys to a new generation of military sonar — is not only confounding the mammals, it also is further threatening the survival of these endangered animals.

Studies show that these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of miles to forage and mate, are losing touch with each other, the experts said at a U.N. wildlife conference in Rome.

“Call it a cocktail-party effect,” said Mark Simmonds, director of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a Britain-based NGO. “You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore.”

An indirect source of noise pollution may also be coming from climate change, which is altering the chemistry of the oceans and making sound travel farther through sea water, the experts said.

Representatives of more than 100 governments are gathered in Rome for a meeting of the U.N.-backed Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

The agenda of the conference, which ends Friday, includes ways to increase protection for endangered species, including measures to mitigate underwater noise.

Environmental groups also are increasingly finding cases of beached whales and dolphins that can be linked to sound pollution, Simmonds said.

Marine mammals are turning up on the world’s beaches with tissue damage similar to that found in divers suffering from decompression sickness. The condition, known as the bends, causes gas bubbles to form in the bloodstream upon surfacing too quickly.

Scientists say the use of military sonar or seismic testing may have scared the animals into diving and surfacing beyond their physical limits, Simmonds said.

Several species of cetaceans are already listed as endangered or critically endangered from other causes, including hunting, chemical pollution, collisions with boats and entanglements with fishing equipment. Though it is not yet known precisely how many animals are affected, sound pollution is increasingly being recognized as a serious factor, the experts said.

As an example, Simmonds offered two incidents this year that, though still under study, could be linked to noise pollution: the beaching of more than 100 melon-headed whales in Madagascar and that of two dozen common dolphins on the southern British coast.

The sound of a seismic test, used to locate hydrocarbons beneath the seabed, can spread 1,800 miles under water, said Veronica Frank, an official with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. A study by her group found that the blue whale, which used to communicate across entire oceans, has lost 90 percent of its range over the past 40 years.

Despite being the largest mammal ever to inhabit Earth, the endangered blue whale still holds mysteries for scientists.

“We don’t even know where their breeding grounds are,” Simmonds said. “But what’s most important is that they need to know where they are.”

Other research suggests that rising levels of carbon dioxide are increasing the acidity of the Earth’s oceans, making sound travel farther through sea water.

The study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the United States shows the changes may mean some sound frequencies are traveling 10% farther than a few centuries ago. That could increase to 70% by 2050 if greenhouse gases are not cut.

However, governments seem ready to take action, said Nick Nutall, a spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program, which administers the convention being discussed in Rome. The conference is discussing a resolution that would oblige countries to reduce sound pollution, he said.

Measures suggested include rerouting shipping and installing quieter engines as well as cutting speed and banning tests and sonar use in areas known to be inhabited by the animals.

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Dan Bacher, October 23, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Environmentalists and fishermen on California’s North Coast are calling for an independent investigation into the killing of an endangered blue whale off Fort Bragg by a mapping survey boat contracted by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

In order to stop the killing of any more whales, locals are also asking for an immediate suspension of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process that the boat was collecting habitat data for.

The 72-foot female blue whale, a new mother, perished on Monday, October 19, after being hit by the 78-foot Pacific Star, under contract to NOAA to update maps of the ocean floor

Jim Milbury, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the boat was doing multi-sonar beam surveys to update marine charts and to determine the habitat to be used in state and federal marine protected area designations.

“We know that the whale’s death was caused by the collision with the boat because the boat crew called us to report the collision,” said Milbury. “After the collision, the dead whale washed up on the beach off Fort Bragg.”

Collisions with boats are relatively infrequent, but the Fort Bragg blue whale was the second to perish from a collision with a boat this fall. On October 9, a 50-foot blue whale was found floating in a kelp bed off Big Sur along the Monterey County coast after an undetermined vessel hit it.

The National Geographic and other media outlets gushed that the Fort Bragg blue whale’s death provided a unique opportunity for scientists to study a whale.

“Though unable to move the blue whale, scientists and students are leaping at the research opportunity, scrambling down rock faces to take tissue samples and eventually one of the 11-foot-long (3.5-meter-long) flippers,” according to an article at National Geographic.

However, fishermen, environmentalists and seaweed harvesters are outraged that the vessel, conducting surveys designed to designate habitat to be included in no-fishing zones that will kick Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters off their traditional areas, was negligent in trying to avoid a collision with the whale. Many believe that the sonar beams coming from the boat may have disoriented the whale, causing it to collide with the boat.

Fearing the endangered animals could soon become extinct, the International Whaling Commission banned all hunting of blue whales in 1966. There are now an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 blue whales in the Northern Hemisphere. The longest known blue whale measured 106 feet long and 200 tons. Whales are an average life span of 80 to 90 years.

Local environmentalists and fishermen have decided to name the dead whale “Jane” after Jane Lubchenko, the NOAA administrator who is running the federal fishery “management” scheme that resulted in the whale’s death.

“The NOAA vessel was mapping both federal and state waters, and part of that data will be used in the MLPA process,” said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “I guarantee you she wants to have a federal MPA process to close large chunks of the ocean out to 200 miles. The state MLPA process is just the beginning.”

The RFA, Ocean Protection Coalition and other conservation groups have asked for a suspension of the MLPA process, due to lack of dedicated funding, numerous conflicts of interests by MLPA decision makers and the lack of clarity about what type of activities are allowed in reserves. This tragic incident only highlights the urgent need to suspend the corrupt and out-of-control MLPA corporate greenwashing process that is opposed by the vast majority of North Coast residents.

“How many blue whales must be killed in the name of so-called ‘ocean protection,’” asked Martin. “How many of these beautiful and magnificent animals must be sacrificed at the altar of corporate-funded marine ‘protection’?”

Martin emphasized, “The whale is a metaphor for North Coast communities who have been run over by NOAA, an agency on auto pilot. The Department of Fish and Game is riding their coattails using this habitat data in the MLPA process.”

Among the communities of the North Coast dramatically impacted by the corrupt MLPA process is the Kashia Pomo Tribe, who have sustainably harvested seaweed, mussels and abalone off Stewarts Point for centuries. However, the California Fish and Game Commission in August, under orders from Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger, banned the Kashia Tribe, seaweed harvesters, fishermen and abalone divers from their traditional harvesting areas in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

As Lester Pinola, past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria, said in a public hearing prior to the Commission August 5 vote, “What you are doing to us is taking the food out of our mouths. When the first settlers came to the coast, they didn’t how to feed themselves. Our people showed them how to eat out of the ocean. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.”

Everybody who cares about the health of our oceans and coastal communities should support a full, independent and impartial investigation of the killing of “Jane ” the whale by a NOAA contract boat. At the same time, the MLPA process, rife with conflict of interests, mission creep and corruption of the democratic process, should be immediately suspended.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoWith demands on US ocean resources control growing quickly, the Obama administration today outlined a new comprehensive ocean management plan to guide federal agencies in restoring and protecting a badly stressed US coastal and ocean environment.

Today’s policy shift proposed by the president’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force holds enormous potential for sweeping changes in how the nation’s oceans are managed, including energy development, experts say.

At its core, the plan would set up a new National Ocean Council to guide a holistic “ecosystem-based” approach intended to elevate and unify what has long been a piecemeal approach by US agencies toward ocean policy and development — from oil and gas exploration to fisheries management to ship transportation to recreation.

The proposal would include “a more balanced, productive, and sustainable approach to using managing and conserving ocean resources,” Nancy Sutley, chairman of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality told reporters in a teleconference unveiling the plan. It would also set up “a comprehensive national approach to uphold our stewardship responsibilities and ensure accountability for our actions.”

Dr. Sutley, who also chaired the interagency task force, appeared alongside representatives from the Department of Interior, the Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But the proposal would apply to 24 agencies.

“This will be the first time we have ever had this kind of action for healthy oceans from any president in US history,” Sarah Chasis, director of the ocean initiative at Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in her blog. She called it the “most progressive, comprehensive national action for our oceans that we have ever seen.”

The changes could affect new offshore wind energy proposals as well as oil and natural gas exploration. “We haven’t fully looked at all aspects of the report,” says Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association. “The one concern we have is we don’t want to stop the momentum of offshore wind projects we’re already seeing. So while we’re certainly not opposed to marine spatial planning, we would like to see projects already in the pipeline move ahead and start getting some offshore projects going in the US.”

One senior official of the American Petroleum Institute said he had not yet seen the proposal and could not comment on it.

The new push comes at a time when major decisions will be needed about whether and how to explore or develop oil and gas in now-thawing areas of the Arctic Ocean near Alaska. Policy changes could also affect deep-water regions in the Gulf of Mexico as well as the siting of wave power and renewable offshore wind turbines off the East Coast.

At the same time, desalination plants, offshore aquaculture, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals are clamoring for space along coastal areas where existing requirements by commercial shipping and commercial fishing are already in place.

All of that – set against a backdrop of existing and continuing damage to fisheries, coral, coastal wetlands, beaches, and deteriorating water quality – has America’s oceans “in crisis,” in the words of a landmark Pew Oceans Commission report issued in 2003. More than 20,000 acres of wetlands and other sensitive habitat disappear annually, while nutrient runoff creates “dead zones” and harmful algal blooms. Some 30% of US fish populations are overfished or fished unsustainably, the report found.

Among the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force’s national objectives were:

  1. Ecosystem-based management as a foundational principle for comprehensive management of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.
  2. Coastal and marine spatial planning to resolve emerging conflicts to ensure that shipping lanes and wind, wave, and oil and gas energy development do not harm fisheries and water quality.
  3. Improved coordination of policy development among federal state, tribal, local, and regional managers of ocean, coasts, and the Great Lakes.
  4. Focus on resiliency and adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification.
  5. Pay special attention to policies needed to deal with changing arctic conditions.

Experts said that the new, unified policy was timely, after decades of hit-or-miss development policies.

“We have been managing bits and pieces of the ocean for a long time, but while some good has been done on pollution and resource management, it hasn’t been sufficient.” says Andrew Rosenberg, professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire and an adviser to the president’s ocean task force.”This policy shift comes at a critical time for our oceans for so many reasons.”

The new proposal won’t be finalized until next year, after a 30-day comment period that begins now. Still, environmentalists were quick to hail the plan as a critical and timely step to begin healing disintegrating environmental conditions in US coastal waters and in the US exclusive economic zone that extends 200 miles beyond its territorial waters.

In June, President Obama set up the commission to develop: “a national policy that ensures the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhances the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies.”

It must also, he wrote, “preserve our maritime heritage, provides for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change, and is coordinated with our national security and foreign policy interests.”

“It’s the first time the federal government has put out a decent paper that proposes what a national policy and attitude toward our oceans should be,” says Christopher Mann, senior officer Pew Environment Group, the environmental arm of the Pew Charitable Trust.

In one of the more telling passages buried down in its interim report, the task force called for decisions guided by “best available science” as well as a “precautionary approach” that reflects the Rio Declaration of 1992, which states: “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environment degradation.”

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Editor’s Note: To learn more about the Kent State Truth Tribunal 2010, please go to www.TruthTribunal.org and pre-register to participate as well as support us with your generous donation. Thanks!

From 1970 to 1980, Senator Kennedy was our single-best crusader from Congress in supporting my family’s attempts to learn the truth about the Kent State Massacre where my protesting sister, Allison Krause, was murdered. We grieve for Senator Kennedy and deeply thank him for always listening to our pain and working alongside my father, Arthur S. Krause, in his fight to have my sister’s death not be vain. Rest in peace, Senator Kennedy. Know that your compassion and tremendous life force had immense positive impact on my family and America.

BRIAN MERCHANT, Treehugger, August 26, 2009

edward-kennedy-green-tributeKennedy was a masterful politician and an effective, aggressive reformer–he was instrumental in shaping the policies, ideology, and face of modern America. More so, as Slate argues, than any other Kennedy. And though he may have more famous achievements (immigration reform, expanding health care, civil rights for the handicapped) he was also a champion of environmental causes. Here, we pay tribute to the less celebrated–but no less important–legacy of green achievements he left behind.

And it’s a pretty staggering list of achievements–from cosponsoring the first bill to put fuel economy standards in place, to tightening regulations on oil companies, to fighting to keep ANWR safe, to being an early proponent of renewable energy promotion, Kennedy has a long history of championing green causes and protecting the environment.

Here are some green highlights:

Holding Oil Companies Accountable During consideration of a 1975 tax cut proposal, Kennedy introduced a provision targeting the oil depletion allowance, which since 1926 had enabled oil producers to exclude 22 percent of their revenues from any taxes. Kennedy’s initiative passed overwhelmingly, trimming the allowance for independent producers and ending it for the major oil companies.

Raising Fuel Economy Standards

Senator Kennedy has a long and distinguished record supporting clean renewable sources of energy and reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. More than 30 years ago he cosponsored the first law to establish fuel economy standards. And in 2007, he supported a law which increased fuel economy standards, which is essential to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Improving Energy Efficiency

Senator Kennedy was a strong proponent of increasing energy efficiency, which is an essential part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He was a long time supporter of programs like the weatherization assistance program and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program that helps those most in need reduce their energy bills by improving home energy efficiency.

Kennedy Fought to Cleanup Brownfields Sites and Revitalize Local Communities

In 2001, Senator Kennedy was a lead sponsor of the Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act, which authorized funds for assessment and cleanup of brownfield sites.

Of course, he did much more in his six terms as senator, but there’s not room to print the entire list here. But it’s safe to say that the US is a greener place thanks to his efforts. Ted Kennedy was one of the most powerful, respected, and influential senators in US history–his progressive vision and will be sorely missed.

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TOM HESTER SR., New Jersey Newsroom, August 25, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoState and local officials joined with Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) Tuesday to recognize the success of one of the Pennington-based company’s PowerBuoys off the coast of Atlantic City.

OPT is a pioneer in wave energy technology that harnesses ocean wave resources to generate clean electricity.

“This is a celebration of our work in the renewable energy sector and an opportunity to thank the state and federal government for supporting OPT since the very beginning,” said Charles Dunleavy, the company’s senior vice president and chief financial officer. “As we continue to achieve success in both the national and international markets, OPT is proud to have invented, developed, and grow our operations right here in New Jersey.”

The federal and state support, including assistance from the Navy, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU), the state Economic Development Authority (EDA), and the state Commission on Science and Technology.

The PowerBuoy has successfully operated for three years off the coasts of Hawaii, Spain, Scotland and Oregon.

“Governor Jon Corzine’s comprehensive energy master plan calls for 30-percent of New Jersey’s energy to be generated from renewable sources by the year 2020,” said BPU President Jeanne Fox. “Ocean Power’s PowerBuoy can help us achieve that goal while also building New Jersey’s green economy and putting our people back to work. It’s exactly the kind of business success that the Governor envisions for New Jersey.”

OPT was founded 1994. It is a public company and operates out of a 23,000- square-foot facility. Since its inception, the company has focused on its proprietary PowerBuoy® technology, capturing wave energy using large floating buoys anchored to the sea bed and converting the energy into electricity using innovative power take-off systems.

Commencing in 1997, OPT has conducted ocean trials off the coast of New Jersey to demonstrate the concept of converting wave energy and convert it into electricity. Ocean Power currently has 42 employees in New Jersey and plans to continue its growth.

“Governor Corzine’s commitment to investing in clean energy has ensured New Jersey is able to attract and develop companies like Ocean Power Technologies,” said EDA Chief Executive Officer Caren S. Franzini. “Ocean Power’s innovative technology and talented staff will only help to drive the company’s growth and the creation of more green jobs in the state.”

Franzini noted that EDA, in conjunction with BPU and the state Department of Environment Protection, recently launched Clean Energy Solutions, a suite of financing and incentive programs to further support the state’s effort to promote green job creation and a more environmentally responsible energy future.

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TODD WOODY, The New York Times, August 12, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoPacific Gas & Electric has quietly dropped one of two planned 40-megawatt wave-farm projects.
Stroll through San Francisco and you can’t miss California utility Pacific Gas & Electric’s latest ad campaign. Posters plastered around town read: “Wave Power: Bad for sandcastles. Good for you.”

But PG&E recently dropped one of its two 40-megawatt wave-farm projects planned for the Northern California coast, according to documents filed with the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission.

“During the past year, PG&E undertook agency consultation and public outreach and commenced an examination of the technical and environmental feasibility of the proposed project,” wrote utility attorney Annette Faraglia in a June 9 letter to the commission. “Based on the results of this examination, PG&E has concluded that the harbor at Fort Bragg, Noyo Harbor, is not suitable for certain aspects of the project.”

In 2007, the utility had applied for federal permits to explore the feasibility of placing wave energy generators in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

The scuttling of the project is just the latest setback for wave energy. Last year, California regulators also declined to approve a PG&E contract to buy a small amount of electricity from a Northern California wave farm to be built by Finavera Renewables, on the grounds the project was not viable.

Despite the difficulties, PG&E is pushing forward with a similar wave project in Humboldt county. The utility has cut that project’s size from 136 square miles to 18 square miles as it zeroes in on the most productive areas of the ocean. Ms. Morris said that the utility expects to file a license application for the pilot project in the spring of 2010.

However, the National Marine Fisheries Service has identified a plethora of protected species that may be affected by the Humboldt project, ranging from endangered coho salmon to the northern elephant seal and long-beaked common dolphin.

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ELIZABETH RUSCH, Smithsonian Magazine, July 2009

von-Jouanne-Oregon-Otter-Rock-BeachShe was in the water when the epiphany struck. Of course, Annette von Jouanne was always in the water, swimming in lakes and pools as she was growing up around Seattle, and swimming distance freestyle competitively in high school and college meets. There’s even an exercise pool in her basement, where she and her husband (a former Olympic swimmer for Portugal) and their three kids have spent a great deal of time…swimming.

But in December 1995 she was bodysurfing in Hawaii over the holidays. She’d just begun working as an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Oregon State University. She was 26 years old and eager to make a difference—to find or improve upon a useful source of energy, preferably one that wasn’t scarce or fleeting or unpredictable or dirty. The sun was going down. The wind was dying. She was bobbing in the swells.

“As the sun set, it hit me: I could ride waves all day and all night, all year long,” says von Jouanne. “Wave power is always there. It never stops. I began thinking that there’s got to be a way to harness all the energy of an ocean swell, in a practical and efficient way, in a responsible way.”

Today, von Jouanne is one of the driving forces in the fast-growing field of wave energy—as well as its leading proponent. She will explain to anyone who will listen that unlike wind and solar energy, wave energy is always available. Even when the ocean seems calm, swells are moving water up and down sufficiently to generate electricity. And an apparatus to generate kilowatts of power from a wave can be much smaller than what’s needed to harness kilowatts from wind or sunshine because water is dense and the energy it imparts is concentrated.

All that energy is also, of course, destructive, and for decades the challenge has been to build a device that can withstand monster waves and gale-force winds, not to mention corrosive saltwater, seaweed, floating debris and curious marine mammals. And the device must also be efficient and require little maintenance.

Still, the allure is irresistible. A machine that could harness an inexhaustible, nonpolluting source of energy and be deployed economically in sufficient numbers to generate significant amounts of electricity—that would be a feat for the ages.

Engineers have built dozens of the machines, called wave energy converters, and tested some on a small scale. In the United States, waves could fuel about 6.5% of today’s electricity needs, says Roger Bedard of the Electric Power Research Institute, an energy think tank in Palo Alto, California. That’s the equivalent of the energy in 150 million barrels of oil—about the same amount of power that is produced by all U.S. hydroelectric dams combined—enough to power 23 million typical American homes. The most powerful waves occur on western coasts, because of strong west-to-east global winds, so Great Britain, Portugal and the West Coast of the United States are among the sites where wave energy is being developed.

Aside from swimming, von Jouanne’s other passion as a youngster was learning how things work. It started with small appliances. An alarm clock broke. She unscrewed the back, fixed the mechanism and put it back together. She was about 8 years old. “That was so exciting for me,” she says. She moved on to calculators and then to a computer she bought with money from her paper route. One day, she waited for her parents to leave the house so she could take apart the television and reassemble it before they returned. (Von Jouanne cautions kids not to do as she did: “there is a high-voltage component.”)

When her brothers, older by eight and ten years, came home for college breaks, she pored over their engineering textbooks. (An older sister pursued a business degree.) “Reading them confirmed that, yup, this is what I want to do,” she recalls.

She studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate at Southern Illinois University and for her doctorate at Texas A&M University. She was often one of the few women in a class. “I never saw myself as a woman engineer,” she says. “I saw myself as an engineer trying to make things better for the world.”

At Oregon State University, she related her wave-tossed epiphany to Alan Wallace, a professor of electrical engineering who shared her fascination with the ocean’s power. “We started saying, there’s got to be a way to harness this energy,” she recalls. They studied the wave energy converters then being produced and looked up centuries-old patents for contraptions to extract power from waves. Some resembled windmills, animal cages or ship propellers. A modern one looked like a huge whale. The gadgets all had one problem in common: they were too complicated.

Take, for example, a device called the Pelamis Attenuator, which was recently deployed for four months off the coast of Portugal by Pelamis Wave Power. It looks like a 500-foot-long red snake. As waves travel its length, the machine bends up and down. The bending pumps hydraulic fluid through a motor, which generates electricity. Complex machines like this are riddled with valves, filters, tubes, hoses, couplings, bearings, switches, gauges, meters and sensors. The intermediate stages reduce efficiency, and if one component breaks, the whole device goes kaput.

After analyzing the field, von Jouanne says, “I knew we needed a simpler design.”

Von Jouanne’s lab is named in memory of Wallace, who died in 2006, but the Wallace Energy Systems & Renewables Facility (WESRF) is familiarly known as “We Surf.” Painted in deep blues and grays and bearing murals of curling waves, the lab has been a research facility and testing ground for such innovative products as an all-electric naval ship, a hovercraft and the Ford Escape Hybrid engine. In one corner is a tall buoy that resembles a huge copper-top battery. Beside it another buoy looks like two cross-country skis with wire strung between them. The designs were among von Jouanne’s earliest. “Breakthroughs are almost always born of failures,” she says.

Her breakthrough was to conceive of a device that has just two main components. In the most recent prototypes, a thick coil of copper wire is inside the first component, which is anchored to the seafloor. The second component is a magnet attached to a float that moves up and down freely with the waves. As the magnet is heaved by the waves, its magnetic field moves along the stationary coil of copper wire. This motion induces a current in the wire—electricity. It’s that simple.

By early 2005, von Jouanne had engineered one of her prototypes and wanted to test whether it was waterproof. She hauled the wave energy converter to her basement, into a flume that circulates water to let her swim in place. Her daughter Sydney, then 6, sat on the prototype, much as a seal might cling to a real buoy. It floated.

Next she phoned a nearby wave pool, where people go to play in simulated waves.

“Do you rent out your pool?” she said.

“For how many people?” the attendant asked.

“Not many people—one wave energy buoy.”

The park donated two early mornings to her venture. Von Jouanne anchored the machine with ten 45-pound weights from a health club. It performed well in the playful waves, bobbing up and down without sinking.

Then came the real test, at one of the longest wave simulators in North America.

At the west end of the leafy Oregon State University campus, past the scholarly red-brick buildings, is a massive T-shaped steel shed in a giant paved lot. Though the building is 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean and well beyond the reach of killer tidal waves, a blue and white metal sign at its entrance says “Entering Tsunami Hazard Zone.”

When von Jouanne first brought a buoy to test in the 342-foot-long concrete flume at Oregon State’s Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, “things didn’t go as planned,” says Dan Cox, the facility’s director, with a laugh. Von Jouanne and co-workers plopped the buoy in the 15-foot-deep channel and buffeted it with two-, three- and four-foot waves. The first five-foot wave tipped it over.

“We had a ballast problem,” von Jouanne says somewhat sheepishly. She goes on, “We’re electrical engineers, and we really needed more help from ocean engineers, but to get them we needed more funding, and to get more funding we needed to show some success.”

Von Jouanne kept refining her buoys. A small group watched as a five-foot wave headed for one of her latest versions. As the buoy lifted with the surge, a 40-watt light bulb on top of it, powered by wave energy, lighted up. “We all cheered,” Cox recalls.

Route 20 winds from Oregon State to the coast though cedar and fir trees, following the Yaquina River. Near the mouth of the river is a sandy spit with low buildings decorated with oyster shells and gnarly driftwood. Breezes set halyards from the nearby marina clanking against metal masts. This is the home of Oregon State’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, devoted to research about marine ecosystems and ocean energy.

George Boehlert, a marine scientist and director of the center, looks out of his office at a field of undulating sea grass. “What we know now is what we don’t know,” says Boehlert, whose dirty blond curls resemble ocean waves. “Ocean energy is a fast-moving field and environmental researchers have a lot of questions.”

For instance, the buoys absorb energy from waves, reducing their size and power. Would shrunken swells affect sand movement and currents near shore, perhaps contributing to erosion?

Buoys, as well as the power cables that would connect to the electrical grid on-shore, emit electromagnetic fields. And mooring cables would thrum in the currents, like a guitar string. Might these disturbances confuse whales, sharks, dolphins, salmon, rays, crabs and other marine animals that use electromagnetism and sound for feeding, mating or navigation?

Would birds collide with the buoys or turtles become entangled in the cables?

Would anchors create artificial reefs that attract fish not normally found in that habitat?

Would deploying, maintaining and removing buoys disturb the seafloor or otherwise change the ocean environment?

“I want to know the answers to these questions, too,” von Jouanne says. “The last thing I want to do is harm the ocean and its beautiful creatures.” To study the environmental risks and allow wave energy engineers to test their inventions, she and colleagues at Oregon State, including Boehlert, are building a floating test berth nearby. It is scheduled to open next year and at its center will be a buoy full of instruments to collect data on how well wave energy converters are performing.

The test berth is part of a massive effort to move wave energy out of the lab and onto the electrical power grid. Through a new Energy Department-funded national marine renewable energy center, researchers from all over the country will have the chance to refine their inventions in the WESRF energy lab, test them in the Hinsdale wave flume and perfect them in the ocean. “This is what we need to do to fully explore wave energy as part of a renewable energy portfolio, for the state, the nation and the world,” von Jouanne says.

Boehlert and others say that even if wave energy has some local environmental impacts, it would likely be far less harmful than coal- and oil-fired power plants. “The effects of continuing to pump carbon into the atmosphere could be much worse for marine life than buoys bobbing in the waves,” he says. “We want ocean energy to work.”

Von Jouanne recently towed her best-performing buoy—her 11th prototype—out through Yaquina Bay and one and a half miles offshore. The buoy, which resembles a giant yellow flying saucer with a black tube sticking through the middle, was anchored in 140 feet of water. For five days it rose and fell with swells and generated around 10 kilowatts of power. In the next two to three years, Columbia Power Technologies, a renewable energy company that has supported von Jouanne’s research, plans to install a buoy generating between 100 and 500 kilowatts of electricity in the test berth off the coast of Oregon. See video of the device here.

“A few years ago,” Cox says of von Jouanne, “she was working on a shoestring. Now she has government getting behind her work and companies knocking at her door. That’s incredibly fast advancement that bodes well for the future of wave energy.”

Another of Von Jouanne’s inventions, the first of its kind, is a machine that tests wave energy converters without having to get them wet. A prototype buoy is secured inside a metal carriage that mimics the up-and-down motion of ocean waves. Electrical equipment monitors the power the buoy generates. The test bed looks like an elevator car in the middle of her lab.

Wave energy researchers from other institutions will be welcome to use von Jouanne’s test bed, but at the moment, it holds one of her own energy-converter buoys. A student sitting at a nearby computer commands the device to simulate waves 1 meter high traveling 0.6 meters per second with 6-second intervals between wave peaks.

“That’s a small summer wave,” von Jouanne says.

The machine hums, lurches and heaves like an amusement park ride.

As the buoy moves up and down, a gauge registers the juice it produces. The needle moves. One kilowatt, two, then three.

“That’s enough to power two houses,” says von Jouanne.

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EMMA WOOLLACOTT, TG Daily, July 15, 2009

rda-wave-hub-graphicThe world’s largest wave farm is to be built off the coast of south-west England under plans announced today. Pledging an investment of £9.5 million ($15.6 million), Business Secretary Lord Mandelson dubbed the region the first “Low Carbon Economic Area”.

The Wave Hub project – a giant, grid-connected socket on the seabed off the coast of Cornwall for wave energy devices to be tested on a huge scale – will be commissioned next summer.

Renewable energy company Ocean Power Technologies will take the first “berth” at Wave Hub, and has placed its first equipment order – for 16.5 miles of subsea cable – this week.

The project is being led by the South West Regional Development Agency (RDA), and also includes plans to evaluate schemes for generating tidal power from the river Severn estuary. “Bristol already boats world-leading expertise, especially around tidal stream technology,” said Stephen Peacock, Enterprise and Innovation Executive Director at the South West RDA.

This is a rather more controversial project, however, as locals and environmentalist groups fear its effect on wildlife habitats. The South West RDA is pledging to look at three embryonic Severn proposals that have “potentially less impact on the estuary environment than conventional technologies”.

What with government, RDA, European and private sector funding, total investment in the South West’s marine energy programme in the next two years is expected to top £100 million.

Regional Minister for the South West, Jim Knight, said: “We are a region that is rich in natural renewable energy resources such as wind, wave, tidal and solar and this makes us well positioned to capitalise on this great opportunity.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, June 30, 2009

hydropower-plant-usbr-hooverU.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu is making available over $32 million in Recovery Act funding to modernize the existing hydropower infrastructure in the U.S., increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

His  announcement supports the deployment of turbines and control technologies to increase power generation and environmental stewardship at existing non-federal hydroelectric facilities.

“There’s no one solution to the energy crisis, but hydropower is clearly part of the solution and represents a major opportunity to create more clean energy jobs,” said Secretary Chu. “Investing in our existing hydropower infrastructure will strengthen our economy, reduce pollution and help us toward energy independence.”

Secretary Chu notes a key benefit of hydropower: potential hydro energy can be stored behind dams and released when it is most needed. Therefore, improving our hydro infrastructure can help to increase the utilization and economic viability of intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

Secretary Chu has committed to developing pumped storage technology to harness these advantages. Today’s funding opportunity announcement under the Recovery Act will be competitively awarded to a variety of non-federal hydropower projects that can be developed without significant modifications to dams and with a minimum of regulatory delay.

Projects will be selected in two areas:

  • Deployment of Hydropower Upgrades at Projects >50 MW: These include projects at large, non-federal facilities (greater than 50 MW capacity) with existing or advanced technologies that will enable improved environmental performance and significant new generation.
  • Deployment of Hydropower Upgrades at Projects < 50 MW: These include projects at small-scale non-federal facilities (less than 50 MWs) with existing or advanced technologies that will enable improved environmental performance and significant new generation.

Letters of intent are due July 22, 2009, and completed applications are due August 20, 2009.

The complete Funding Opportunity Announcement, number DE-FOA-0000120, can be viewed on the Grants.gov Web site. Projects are expected to begin in fiscal year 2010.

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STEPHEN IVALL, Falmouth Packet UK, June 27, 2009

SWMTF-wave-energy-buoyThe ambition for Cornwall to become a world-leading centre for wave energy has moved a step closer to reality with the launch of a two-tonne (2000kg) buoy off the coast of Falmouth.

Developed by a team at the University of Exeter, the South Western Mooring Test Facility (SWMTF) buoy is a world first. It will gather detailed information to help inform the future design and development of moorings for marine energy devices.

It will complement the South West RDA’s (Regional Development Agency) Wave Hub project, which will create the world’s largest wave energy farm off the north coast of Cornwall. It also supports wider ambitions to make the South West a global centre of excellence for marine renewables.

The SWMTF is the latest development from PRIMaRE (the Peninsula Research Institute for Marine Renewable Energy), a joint £15 million institute for research into harnessing the energy from the sea bringing together the technology and marine expertise of the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth.

Led by Dr Lars Johanning, the PRIMaRE mooring research group at the University of Exeter successfully developed the £305,000 SWMTF with capital investment from the ERDF Convergence programme matched with funds from the South West RDA. The research team is part of the University of Exeter’s Camborne School of Mines, based on the Tremough Campus, Penryn.

The SWMTF buoy has been designed with unique features so it can obtain very detailed data in actual sea conditions to show how moored structures respond to changes in wind, wave, current and tide. Using this information, developers will be able to model and test mooring designs and components for their marine energy devices as they convert wave movement into energy. The SWMTF will also provide data for a wide range of other marine devices.

The SWMTF buoy has a simple, circular design, with specialised sensors and other instruments built into its structure, enabling it to record data to a high degree of accuracy and allow real time data communication to shore. It has taken a year to develop the buoy and its instruments. Most of the components were manufactured by companies in the South West, many of which are in Cornwall.

Dr Lars Johanning of the University of Exeter said: “This is a major milestone in PRIMaRE’s research and we are excited about the potential this might have for the development of the Wave Hub project. It has been a huge challenge to build something that can function in the unpredictable environment of the open sea. This would not have been achieved without the design effort provided by the PRIMaRE project engineers Dave Parish and Thomas Clifford, and the many companies who have risen to the challenge to manufacture the buoy and its instruments. We look forward to announcing the results of our tests after the first set of sea trials.”

Nick Harrington, head of marine energy at the South West RDA, said: “We are investing £7.3 million in PRIMaRE to create a world-class marine renewables research base as part of our drive towards a low-carbon economy in the South West, and this buoy will help technology developers design safe but cost-effective moorings. Our groundbreaking Wave Hub project which is on course for construction next year will further cement our region’s reputation for being at the cutting edge of renewable energy development.”

Now that the buoy has been launched, the team will conduct the first tests, within the secure location of Falmouth Harbour. The buoy will then be moved to its mooring position in Falmouth Bay. Once moored at this location, data will be transmitted in real time to a shore station for analysis. A surveillance camera will transmit images to the PRIMaRE web page, allowing the team to continually monitor activities around the buoy.

The SWMTF buoy also has the potential to support other offshore industries, including oil and gas or floating wind installations, in the design of mooring systems. Discussions are already underway with instrumentation developers to develop specific underwater communication systems. In addition the development of the SWMTF buoy has helped secure funding for a collaborative European FP7-CORES (Components for Ocean Renewable Energy Systems) programme, taking the University of Exeter to the forefront of European wave energy converter research.

PRIMaRE will also play a strategic role in the Environmental and Sustainable Institute (ESI), which the University of Exeter aims to develop at the Tremough Campus.

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MendoCoastCurrent, June 17, 2009

300_127728The West has been at the forefront of the country’s development and implementation of renewable energy technologies, leading the way in passing effective Renewable Portfolio Standards and harnessing the region’s significant renewable energy resources. The initiatives announced at the recent annual western governors’ meeting offered a collaboration of federal and state efforts to help western states continue to lead in energy and climate issues, while driving U.S. economic recovery and protecting the environment.

Secretaries Chu, Salazar and Vilsack and Chairs Sutley and Wellinghoff offered the western state governors next steps to tap renewable energy potential and create green jobs, focusing on energy strategies and initiatives to support their states and constituents.

Included in these initiatives are the development of a smarter electric grid and more reliable transmission system, protection of critical wildlife corridors and habitats, promoting the development of renewable energy sources and laying the groundwork for integrating these energy sources onto the national electricity grid.

“These steps send an unmistakable message: the Obama Administration will be a strong partner with the West on clean energy” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said. “We will create jobs, promote our energy independence and cut our carbon emissions by unlocking the enormous potential for renewable energy in the Western United States”

“Our collective presence here demonstrates the Obama Administration’s commitment to working with the Western governors as we begin to meet the challenge of connecting the sun of the deserts and the wind of the plains with the places where people live” said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior.

“President Obama has been very clear about his intent to address our country’s long-term energy challenges and this multi-department approach will help increase production of energy from renewable sources and generate new, green jobs in the process” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “When we produce more energy from clean sources, we help protect our farmland and our forests for future generations”

“With their focus on clean energy, electricity transmission and Western water supply, the Governors have shown a commitment to addressing the critical issue of climate change and the challenges it presents to state and local governments” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The areas covered during this meeting, from water supplies and renewable energy, to fostering international cooperation on energy and the environment, are issues we are also focused on at the White House under the leadership of President Obama. We look forward to working together to meet these challenges”

“FERC looks forward to coordinating with DOE and working with the states and local planning entities and other interested parties in the course of facilitating the resource assessments and transmission plans” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said.

The actions announced include:

$80 Million for Regional and Interconnection Transmission Analysis and Planning:

The Department of Energy announced $80 million in new funding under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to support long-term, coordinated interconnection transmission planning across the country. Under the program, state and local governments, utilities and other stakeholders will collaborate on the development and implementation of the next generation of high-voltage transmission networks.

The continental United States is currently served by three separate networks or “interconnections” – the Western, Eastern and Texas interconnections. Within each network, output and consumption by the generation and transmission facilities must be carefully coordinated. As additional energy sources are joined to the country’s electrical grid, increased planning and analysis will be essential to maintain electricity reliability.

Secretary Chu announced the release of a $60 million solicitation seeking proposals to develop long-term interconnection plans in each of the regions, which will include dialogue and collaboration among states within an interconnection on how best to meet the area’s long-term electricity supply needs. The remaining $20 million in funding will pay for supporting additional transmission and demand analysis to be performed by DOE’s national laboratories and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

$50 Million for Assistance to State Electricity Regulators:

Secretary Chu announced $50 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support state public utility commissions and their key role in regulating and overseeing new electricity projects, which can include smart grid developments, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, carbon capture and storage projects, etc. The funds will be used by states and public utility commissions to hire new staff and retrain existing employees to accelerate reviews of the large number of electric utility requests expected under the Recovery Act. Public utility commissions in each state and the District of Columbia are eligible for grants.

Nearly $40 Million to Support Energy Assurance Capabilities for States:

The Department of Energy also announced that $39.5 million in Recovery Act funding will be available for state governments to improve emergency preparedness plans and ensure the resiliency of the country’s electrical grid. Funds will be used by the cities and states to hire or retrain staff to prepare them for issues such as integrating smart grid technology into the transmission network, critical infrastructure interdependencies and cybersecurity. Throughout this process, the emphasis will be on building regional capacity to ensure energy reliability, where states can help and learn from one another. Funds will be available to all states to increase management, monitoring and assessment capacity of their electrical systems.

$57 Million for Wood-to-Energy Grants and Biomass Utilization Projects:

The Department of Agriculture announced $57 million in funding for 30 biomass projects. The projects – $49 million for wood-to-energy grants and $8 million for biomass utilization – are located in 14 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

In keeping with the Obama Administration’s interest in innovative sources for energy, these Recovery Act funds may help to create markets for small diameter wood and low value trees removed during forest restoration activities. This work will result in increased value of biomass generated during forest restoration projects, the removal of economic barriers to using small diameter trees and woody biomass and generation of renewable energy from woody biomass. These funds may also help communities and entrepreneurs turn residues from forest restoration activities into marketable energy products. Projects were nominated by Forest Service regional offices and selected nationally through objective criteria on a competitive basis.

Biomass utilization also provides additional opportunities for removal of hazardous fuels on federal forests and grasslands and on lands owned by state, local governments, private organizations and individual landowners.

Memorandum of Understanding to Improve State Wildlife Data Systems, Protect Wildlife Corridors and Key Habitats across the West:

During today’s Annual Meeting in Park City, Utah, Secretaries Salazar, Vilsack and Chu agreed to partner with the Western Governors’ Association to enhance state wildlife data systems that will help minimize the impact to wildlife corridors and key habitats. Improved mapping and data on wildlife migration corridors and habitats will significantly improve the decision-making process across state and federal government as new renewable and fossil energy resources and transmission systems are planned. Because the development of this data often involves crossing state lines and includes information from both private and public lands, increased cooperation and coordination, like this Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), are important to developing a comprehensive view on the impact of specific energy development options.

Western Renewable Energy Zones Report Identifies Target Areas for Renewable Energy Development:

The Department of Energy and the Western Governors’ Association released a joint report by the Western Renewable Energy Zones initiative that takes first steps toward identifying areas in the Western transmission network that have the potential for large-scale development of renewable resources with low environmental impacts. Participants in the project included renewable energy developers, tribal interests, utility planners, environmental groups and government policymakers. Together, they developed new modeling tools and data to facilitate interstate collaboration in permitting new multistate transmission lines.

In May 2008, the Western Governors’ Association and DOE launched the Western Renewable Energy Zones initiative to identify those areas in the West with vast renewable resources to expedite the development and delivery of renewable energy to where it is needed. Under the Initiative, renewable energy resources are being analyzed within 11 states, two Canadian provinces and areas in Mexico that are part of the Western Interconnection.

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JAMES RICKMAN, Seeking Alpha, June 8, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoOceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. As the world’s largest solar collectors, oceans generate thermal energy from the sun. They also produce mechanical energy from the tides and waves. Even though the sun affects all ocean activity, the gravitational pull of the moon primarily drives the tides, and the wind powers the ocean waves.

Wave energy is the capture of the power from waves on the surface of the ocean. It is one of the newer forms of renewable or ‘green’ energy under development, not as advanced as solar energy, fuel cells, wind energy, ethanol, geothermal companies, and flywheels. However, interest in wave energy is increasing and may be the wave of the future in coastal areas according to many sources including the International Energy Agency Implementing Agreement on Ocean Energy Systems (Report 2009).

Although fewer than 12 MW of ocean power capacity has been installed to date worldwide, we find a significant increase of investments reaching over $2 billion for R&D worldwide within the ocean power market including the development of commercial ocean wave power combination wind farms within the next three years.

Tidal turbines are a new technology that can be used in many tidal areas. They are basically wind turbines that can be located anywhere there is strong tidal flow. Because water is about 800 times denser than air, tidal turbines will have to be much sturdier than wind turbines. They will be heavier and more expensive to build but will be able to capture more energy. For example, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest region alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in the ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity.

Companies to Watch in the Developing Wave Power Industry:

Siemens AG (SI) is a joint venture partner of Voith Siemens Hydro Power Generation, a leader in advanced hydro power technology and services, which owns Wavegen, Scotland’s first wave power company. Wavegen’s device is known as an oscillating water column, which is normally sited at the shoreline rather than in open water. A small facility is already connected to the Scottish power grid, and the company is working on another project in Northern Spain.

Ocean Power Technologies, Inc (OPTT) develops proprietary systems that generate electricity through ocean waves. Its PowerBuoy system is used to supply electricity to local and regional electric power grids. Iberdrola hired the company to build and operate a small wave power station off Santona, Spain, and is talking with French oil major Total (TOT) about another wave energy project off the French coast. It is also working on projects in England, Scotland, Hawaii, and Oregon.

Pelamis Wave Power, formerly known as Ocean Power Delivery, is a privately held company which has several owners including various venture capital funds, General Electric Energy (GE) and Norsk Hydro ADR (NHYDY.PK). Pelamis Wave Power is an excellent example of Scottish success in developing groundbreaking technology which may put Scotland at the forefront of Europe’s renewable revolution and create over 18,000 green high wage jobs in Scotland over the next decade. The Pelamis project is also being studied by Chevron (CVX).

Endesa SA ADS (ELEYY.PK) is a Spanish electric utility which is developing, in partnership with Pelamis, the world’s first full scale commercial wave power farm off Aguçadoura, Portugal which powers over 15,000 homes. A second phase of the project is now planned to increase the installed capacity from 2.25MW to 21MW using a further 25 Pelamis machines.

RWE AG ADR (RWEOY.PK) is a German management holding company with six divisions involved in power and energy. It is developing wave power stations in Siadar Bay on the Isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland.

Australia’s Oceanlinx offers an oscillating wave column design and counts Germany’s largest power generator RWE as an investor. It has multiple projects in Australia and the U.S., as well as South Africa, Mexico, and Britain.

Alstom (AOMFF.PK) has also announced development in the promising but challenging field of capturing energy from waves and tides adding to the further interest from major renewable power developers in this emerging industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced several wave energy developments including a cost-shared value of over $18 million, under the DOE’s competitive solicitation for Advanced Water Power Projects. The projects will advance commercial viability, cost-competitiveness, and market acceptance of new technologies that can harness renewable energy from oceans and rivers. The DOE has selected the following organizations and projects for grant awards:

First Topic Area: Technology Development (Up to $600,000 for up to two years)

Electric Power Research Institute, Inc (EPRI) (Palo Alto, Calif.) Fish-friendly hydropower turbine development & deployment. EPRI will address the additional developmental engineering required to prepare a more efficient and environmentally friendly hydropower turbine for the commercial market and allow it to compete with traditional designs.

Verdant Power Inc. (New York, N.Y.) Improved structure and fabrication of large, high-power kinetic hydropower systems rotors. Verdant will design, analyze, develop for manufacture, fabricate and thoroughly test an improved turbine blade design structure to allow for larger, higher-power and more cost-effective tidal power turbines.

Public Utility District #1 of Snohomish County (SnoPUD) (Everett, Wash.) Puget Sound Tidal Energy In-Water Testing and Development Project. SnoPUD will conduct in-water testing and demonstration of tidal flow technology as a first step toward potential construction of a commercial-scale power plant. The specific goal of this proposal is to complete engineering design and obtain construction approvals for a Puget Sound tidal pilot demonstration plant in the Admiralty Inlet region of the Sound.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company – San Francisco, Calif. WaveConnect Wave Energy In-Water Testing and Development Project. PG&E will complete engineering design, conduct baseline environmental studies, and submit all license construction and operation applications required for a wave energy demonstration plant for the Humboldt WaveConnect site in Northern California.

Concepts ETI, Inc (White River Junction, Vt.) Development and Demonstration of an Ocean Wave Converter (OWC) Power System. Concepts ETI will prepare detailed design, manufacturing and installation drawings of an OWC. They will then manufacture and install the system in Maui, Hawaii.

Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMT) – Manassas, Va., Advanced Composite Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion – “OTEC”, cold water pipe project. Lockheed Martin will validate manufacturing techniques for coldwater pipes critical to OTEC in order to help create a more cost-effective OTEC system.

Second Topic Area, Market Acceleration (Award size: up to $500,000)

Electric Power Research Institute (Palo Alto, Calif.) Wave Energy Resource Assessment and GIS Database for the U.S. EPRI will determine the naturally available resource base and the maximum practicable extractable wave energy resource in the U.S., as well as the annual electrical energy which could be produced by typical wave energy conversion devices from that resource.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation (Atlanta, Ga.) Assessment of Energy Production Potential from Tidal Streams in the U.S. Georgia Tech will utilize an advanced ocean circulation numerical model to predict tidal currents and compute both available and effective power densities for distribution to potential project developers and the general public.

Re Vision Consulting, LLC (Sacramento, Calif.) Best Siting Practices for Marine and Hydrokinetic Technologies With Respect to Environmental and Navigational Impacts. Re Vision will establish baseline, technology-based scenarios to identify potential concerns in the siting of marine and hydrokinetic energy devices, and to provide information and data to industry and regulators.

Pacific Energy Ventures, LLC (Portland, Ore.) Siting Protocol for Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy Projects. Pacific Energy Ventures will bring together a multi-disciplinary team in an iterative and collaborative process to develop, review, and recommend how emerging hydrokinetic technologies can be sited to minimize environmental impacts.

PCCI, Inc. (Alexandria, Va.) Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Technologies: Identification of Potential Navigational Impacts and Mitigation Measures. PCCI will provide improved guidance to help developers understand how marine and hydrokinetic devices can be sited to minimize navigational impact and to expedite the U.S. Coast Guard review process.

Science Applications International Corporation (SAI) – San Diego, Calif., International Standards Development for Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy. SAIC will assist in the development of relevant marine and hydrokinetic energy industry standards, provide consistency and predictability to their development, and increase U.S. industry’s collaboration and representation in the development process.

Third Topic Area, National Marine Energy Centers (Award size: up to $1.25 million for up to five years)

Oregon State University, and University of Washington – Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center. OSU and UW will partner to develop the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center with a full range of capabilities to support wave and tidal energy development for the U.S. Center activities are structured to: facilitate device commercialization, inform regulatory and policy decisions, and close key gaps in understanding.

University of Hawaii (Honolulu, Hawaii) National Renewable Marine Energy Center in Hawaii will facilitate the development and implementation of commercial wave energy systems and to assist the private sector in moving ocean thermal energy conversion systems beyond proof-of-concept to pre-commercialization, long-term testing.

Types of Hydro Turbines

There are two main types of hydro turbines: impulse and reaction. The type of hydropower turbine selected for a project is based on the height of standing water— the flow, or volume of water, at the site. Other deciding factors include how deep the turbine must be set, efficiency, and cost.

Impulse Turbines

The impulse turbine generally uses the velocity of the water to move the runner and discharges to atmospheric pressure. The water stream hits each bucket on the runner. There is no suction on the down side of the turbine, and the water flows out the bottom of the turbine housing after hitting the runner. An impulse turbine, for example Pelton or Cross-Flow is generally suitable for high head, low flow applications.

Reaction Turbines

A reaction turbine develops power from the combined action of pressure and moving water. The runner is placed directly in the water stream flowing over the blades rather than striking each individually. Reaction turbines include the Propeller, Bulb, Straflo, Tube, Kaplan, Francis or Kenetic are generally used for sites with lower head and higher flows than compared with the impulse turbines.

Types of Hydropower Plants

There are three types of hydropower facilities: impoundment, diversion, and pumped storage. Some hydropower plants use dams and some do not.

Many dams were built for other purposes and hydropower was added later. In the United States, there are about 80,000 dams of which only 2,400 produce power. The other dams are for recreation, stock/farm ponds, flood control, water supply, and irrigation. Hydropower plants range in size from small systems for a home or village to large projects producing electricity for utilities.

Impoundment

The most common type of hydroelectric power plant (above image) is an impoundment facility. An impoundment facility, typically a large hydropower system, uses a dam to store river water in a reservoir. Water released from the reservoir flows through a turbine, spinning it, which in turn activates a generator to produce electricity. The water may be released either to meet changing electricity needs or to maintain a constant reservoir level.

The Future of Ocean and Wave Energy

Wave energy devices extract energy directly from surface waves or from pressure fluctuations below the surface. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in the ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity. (A terawatt is equal to a trillion watts.)

Wave energy rich areas of the world include the western coasts of Scotland, northern Canada, southern Africa, Japan, Australia, and the northeastern and northwestern coasts of the United States. In the Pacific Northwest alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline. The West Coast of the United States is more than a 1,000 miles long.
In general, careful site selection is the key to keeping the environmental impacts of wave energy systems to a minimum. Wave energy system planners can choose sites that preserve scenic shorefronts. They also can avoid areas where wave energy systems can significantly alter flow patterns of sediment on the ocean floor.

Economically, wave energy systems are just beginning to compete with traditional power sources. However, the costs to produce wave energy are quickly coming down. Some European experts predict that wave power devices will soon find lucrative niche markets. Once built, they have low operation and maintenance costs because the fuel they use — seawater — is FREE.

The current cost of wave energy vs. traditional electric power sources?

It has been estimated that improving technology and economies of scale will allow wave generators to produce electricity at a cost comparable to wind-driven turbines, which produce energy at about 4.5 cents kWh.

For now, the best wave generator technology in place in the United Kingdom is producing energy at an average projected/assessed cost of 6.7 cents kWh.

In comparison, electricity generated by large scale coal burning power plants costs about 2.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Combined-cycle natural gas turbine technology, the primary source of new electric power capacity is about 3 cents per kilowatt hour or higher. It is not unusual to average costs of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and up for municipal utilities districts.

Currently, the United States, Brazil, Europe, Scotland, Germany, Portugal, Canada and France all lead the developing wave energy industry that will return 30% growth or more for the next five years.

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MARGOT ROOSEVELT, The Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2009

47075213Silvery light flickers through the redwood canopy of the Van Eck forest down to a fragrant carpet of needles and thimbleberry brush. A brook splashes along polished stones, through thickets of ferns. How lush. How lovely. How lucrative.

This 2,200-acre spread in Humboldt County does well by doing good. For the last four years, Van Eck’s foresters restricted logging, allowing trees to do what trees do: absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The conservation foundation that oversees the forest then calculated that carbon bonus and sold it for $2 million to individuals and companies trying to offset some 185,000 metric tons of their greenhouse gas emissions.

“Forests can be managed like a long-term carbon bank,” said Laurie Wayburn, president of the Pacific Forest Trust, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that oversees Van Eck. Selling offsets, she said, is like “writing checks on the account.”

In the struggle over how to address climate change nationally and globally, forests play a major role. “Cap-and-trade” programs set limits on greenhouse gases and allow industries to trade emissions permits among themselves. And they can include provisions for offsetting heat-trapping pollution by investing in woodlands.

Offsets are poised for explosive growth. In the next two years, California is expected to roll out a statewide carbon market that may be expanded to other Western states. Nationally, climate legislation approved by a key congressional committee last week would allow U.S. industries to use offsets worth up to 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, part of which could come from forest projects here and abroad.

A new climate treaty scheduled to be signed in Copenhagen in December may allow industrial countries to offset emissions with forest-saving projects in Brazil, Indonesia and other developing nations. Ripe for fraud? But the carbon commodity business is controversial. Critics fear that poorly regulated offsets could hand a get-out-of-jail-free card to heavy polluters. Should a coal-fired power plant in Nevada avoid slashing carbon dioxide emissions by paying to preserve trees in Oregon? Is this a complex trading scheme ripe for fraud?

To create trustworthy offsets, California’s Air Resources Board two years ago set up the nation’s first government-sponsored system to quantify and verify carbon. Those rules are being rewritten for possible use by other states. “Companies having a hard time meeting their carbon emission limits may want to invest in forestry as a way to cut costs,” said Mary D. Nichols, the board’s chairwoman. “We have hundreds of thousands of acres of forests that can play a role in helping us to prevent global warming.”

Forests are central to Earth’s climate because, like oceans, they are a carbon “sink.” Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas that is heating the planet’s atmosphere. Allowing trees to grow larger before logging increases the carbon stored in a forest. So do widening the forested buffers along streams and clearing out underbrush to allow more space for trees. Reforesting areas abandoned to brush or destroyed by wildfire would also greatly boost carbon stock.

“California leads the world with regard to the role of forests in combating climate change,” said Chris Kelly, California director for the Conservation Fund, a Virginia-based nonprofit that has sold offsets from Mendocino County preserves. “I just had an inquiry from a Canadian buyer who’s expecting Canada to move in the direction set by California.”

But so far, big timber operators, including Sierra Pacific Industries and Green Diamond Resource Co., have yet to enroll in California’s offsets program. Current standards require owners to agree to a permanent conservation easement, a legal agreement that would guarantee carbon-storage measures in perpetuity. Companies have found that too onerous, and as a result only a handful of woodlands have registered, mainly those managed by conservation groups.

For the last 18 months, members of a task force of environmentalists, timber operators and state officials have been locked in contentious negotiations to revise the rules. The new draft, to go before the Air Resources Board next month, substitutes a 100-year contract for the easement, thus allowing development after a century. It also clarifies rules for companies to quantify and verify carbon. At least one environmental group is uncomfortable with the changes. “By removing the easement, you leave the system open to gaming,” said Brian Nowicki, a forest specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The timber industry wants ‘business as usual’ practices, like clear-cutting, to qualify for carbon credit.”

But groups represented on the task force, including the Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy and Pacific Forest Trust, say that century-long contracts and strict accounting rules will guarantee that offsets will be granted only if additional carbon is stored above and beyond conventional forest practices. David Bischel, president of the California Forestry Assn., the industry trade group, said he expects more landowners to sign up but cautions, “It is an opportunity in its infancy: When you add up the numbers, it is not a huge source of revenue.” ‘This is a win-win’

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SustainableBusiness.com News, April 30, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoA bill introduced in the Senate aims to encourage development of renewable ocean energy.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today introduced the legislation as a companion to a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jay Inslee, (D-Wash.), that would authorize as much as $250 million a year to promote ocean research.

The Marine Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2009 and a companion tax provision would expand federal research of marine energy, take over the cost verification of new wave, current, tidal and thermal ocean energy devices, create an adaptive management fund to help pay for the demonstration and deployment of such electric projects and provide a key additional tax incentive.

“Coming from Alaska, where there are nearly 150 communities located along the state’s 34,000 miles of coastline plus dozens more on major river systems, it’s clear that perfecting marine energy could be of immense benefit to the nation,” said Murkowski, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It simply makes sense to harness the power of the sun, wind, waves and river and ocean currents to make electricity.”

The legislation would:

  • Authorize the U.S. Department of Energy to increase its research and development effort. The bill also encourages efforts to allow marine energy to work in conjunction with other forms of energy, such as offshore wind, and authorizes more federal aid to assess and deal with any environmental impacts. 
  • Allow for the creation of a federal Marine-Based Energy Device Verification program in which the government would test and certify the performance of new marine technologies to reduce market risks for utilities purchasing power from such projects.
  • Authorize the federal government to set up an adaptive management program, and a fund to help pay for the regulatory permitting and development of new marine technologies.
  • And a separate bill, likely to be referred to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration, would ensure marine projects benefit from being able to accelerate the depreciation of their project costs over five years–like some other renewable energy technologies currently can do. The provision should enhance project economic returns for private developers

 The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that ocean resources in the United States could generate 252 million megawatt hours of electricity–6.5% of America’s entire electricity generation–if ocean energy gained the same financial and research incentives currently enjoyed by other forms of renewable energy.

“This bill, if approved, will bring us closer to a level playing field so that ocean energy can compete with wind, solar, geothermal and biomass technologies to generate clean energy,” Murkowski said.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThree miles off the craggy, wave-crashing coastline near Humboldt Bay, California, deep ocean swells roll through a swath of ocean that is soon to be the site of the nation’s first major wave energy project.

Like other renewable energy technology, ocean energy generated by waves, tidal currents or steady offshore winds has been considered full of promise yet perennially years from reaching full-blown commercial development.

That’s still true – commercial-scale deployment is at least five years away. Yet there are fresh signs that ocean power is surging. And if all goes well, WaveConnect, the wave energy pilot project at Humboldt that’s being developed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), could by next year deploy five commercial-scale wave systems, each putting 1 megawatt of ocean-generated power onto the electric grid.

At less than 1% of the capacity of a big coal-fired power plant, that might seem a pittance. Yet studies show that wave energy could one day produce enough power to supply 17% of California’s electric needs – and make a sizable dent in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Nationwide, ocean power’s potential is far larger. Waves alone could produce 10,000 megawatts of power, about 6.5% of US electricity demand – or as much as produced by conventional hydropower dam generators, estimated the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the public utility industry based in Palo Alto, California, in 2007. All together, offshore wind, tidal power, and waves could meet 10% of US electricity needs.

That potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Obama administration. After years of jurisdictional bickering, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Department of Interior — MMS last month moved to clarify permitting requirements that have long slowed ocean energy development.

While the Bush administration requested zero for its Department of Energy ocean power R&D budget a few years ago, the agency has reversed course and now plans to quadruple funding to $40 million in the next fiscal year.

If the WaveConnect pilot project succeeds, experts say that the Humboldt site, along with another off Mendocino County to the south, could expand to 80 megawatts. Success there could fling open the door to commercial-scale projects not only along California’s surf-pounding coast but prompt a bicoastal US wave power development surge.

“Even without much support, ocean power has proliferated in the last two to three years, with many more companies trying new and different technology,” says George Hagerman, an ocean energy researcher at the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute in Arlington, Va.

Wave and tidal current energy are today at about the same stage as land-based wind power was in the early 1980s, he says, but with “a lot more development just waiting to see that first commercial success.”

More than 50 companies worldwide and 17 US-based companies are now developing ocean power prototypes, an EPRI survey shows. As of last fall, FERC tallied 34 tidal power and nine wave power permits with another 20 tidal current, four wave energy, and three ocean current applications pending.

Some of those permits are held by Christopher Sauer’s company, Ocean Renewable Power of Portland, Maine, which expects to deploy an underwater tidal current generator in a channel near Eastport, Maine, later this year.

After testing a prototype since December 2007, Mr. Sauer is now ready to deploy a far more powerful series of turbines using “foils” – not unlike an airplane propeller – to efficiently convert water current that’s around six knots into as much as 100,000 watts of power. To do that requires a series of “stacked” turbines totaling 52 feet wide by 14 feet high.

“This is definitely not a tinkertoy,” Sauer says.

Tidal energy, as demonstrated by Verdant Power’s efforts in New York City’s East River, could one day provide the US with 3,000 megawatts of power, EPRI says. Yet a limited number of appropriate sites with fast current means that wave and offshore wind energy have the largest potential.

“Wave energy technology is still very much in emerging pre-commercial stage,” says Roger Bedard, ocean technology leader for EPRI. “But what we’re seeing with the PG&E WaveConnect is an important project that could have a significant impact.”

Funding is a problem. As with most renewable power, financing for ocean power has been becalmed by the nation’s financial crisis. Some 17 Wall Street finance companies that had funded renewables, including ocean power, are now down to about seven, says John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Even so, entrepreneurs like Sauer aren’t close to giving up – and even believe that the funding tide may have turned. Private equity and the state of Maine provided funding at a critical time, he says.

“It’s really been a struggle, particularly since mid-September when Bear Sterns went down,” Sauers says. “We worked without pay for a while, but we made it through.”

Venture capitalists are not involved in ocean energy right now, he admits. Yet he does get his phone calls returned. “They’re not writing checks yet, but they’re talking more,” he says.

When they do start writing checks, it may be to propel devices such as the Pelamis and the PowerBuoy. Makers of those devices, and more than a dozen wave energy companies worldwide, will soon vie to be among five businesses selected to send their machines to the ocean off Humboldt.

One of the major challenges they will face is “survivability” in the face of towering winter waves. By that measure, one of the more successful generators – success defined by time at sea without breaking or sinking – is the Pelamis, a series of red metal cylinders connected by hinges and hydraulic pistons.

Looking a bit like a red bullet train, several of the units were until recently floating on the undulating sea surface off the coast of Portugal. The Pelamis coverts waves to electric power as hydraulic cylinders connecting its floating cylinders expand and contract thereby squeezing fluid through a power unit that extracts energy.

An evaluation of a Pelamis unit installed off the coast of Massachusetts a few years ago found that for $273 million, a wave farm with 206 of the devices could produce energy at a cost of about 13.4 cents a kilowatt hours. Such costs would drop sharply and be competitive with onshore wind energy if the industry settled on a technology and mass-produced it.

“Even with worst-case assumptions, the economics of wave energy compares favorably to wind energy,” the 2004 study conducted for EPRI found.

One US-based contestant for a WaveConnect slot is likely to be the PowerBuoy, a 135-five-foot-long steel cylinder made by Ocean Power Technology (OPT) of Pennington, N.J. Inside the cylinder that is suspended by a float, a pistonlike structure moves up and down with the bobbing of the waves. That drives a generator, sending up to 150 kilowatts of power to a cable on the ocean bottom. A dozen or more buoys tethered to the ocean floor make a power plant.

“Survivability” is a critical concern for all ocean power systems. Constant battering by waves has sunk more than one wave generator. But one of PowerBuoy’s main claims is that its 56-foot-long prototype unit operated continuously for two years before being pulled for inspection.

“The ability to ride out passing huge waves is a very important part of our system,” says Charles Dunleavy, OPT’s chief financial officer. “Right now, the industry is basically just trying to assimilate and deal with many different technologies as well as the cost of putting structures out there in the ocean.”

Beside survivability and economics, though, the critical question of impact on the environment remains.

“We think they’re benign,” EPRI’s Mr. Bedard says. “But we’ve never put large arrays of energy devices in the ocean before. If you make these things big enough, they would have a negative impact.”

Mr. Dunleavy is optimistic that OPT’s technology is “not efficient enough to rob coastlines and their ecosystems of needed waves. A formal evaluation found the company’s PowerBuoy installed near a Navy base in Hawaii as having “no significant impact,” he says.

Gauging the environmental impacts of various systems will be studied closely in the WaveConnect program, along with observations gathered from fishermen, surfers, and coastal-impact groups, says David Eisenhauer, a PG&E spokesman, says.

“There’s definitely good potential for this project,” says Mr. Eisenhauer. “It’s our responsibility to explore any renewable energy we can bring to our customers – but only if it can be done in an economically and environmentally feasible way.”

Offshore wind is getting a boost, too. On April 22, the Obama administration laid out new rules on offshore leases, royalty payments, and easement that are designed to pave the way for investors.

Offshore wind energy is a commercially ready technology, with 10,000 megawatts of wind energy already deployed off European shores. Studies have shown that the US has about 500,000 megawatts of potential offshore energy. Across 10 to 11 East Coast states, offshore wind could supply as much as 20% of the states’ electricity demand without the need for long transmission lines, Hagerman notes.

But development has lagged, thanks to political opposition and regulatory hurdles. So the US remains about five years behind Europe on wave and tidal and farther than that on offshore wind, Bedard says. “They have 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind and we have zero.”

While more costly than land-based wind power, new offshore wind projects have been shown in some studies to have a lower cost of energy than coal projects of the same size and closer to the cost of energy of a new natural-gas fired power plant, Hagerman says.

Offshore wind is the only ocean energy technology ready to be deployed in gigawatt quantities in the next decade, Bedard says. Beyond that, wave and tidal will play important roles.

For offshore wind developers, that means federal efforts to clarify the rules on developing ocean wind energy can’t come soon enough. Burt Hamner plans a hybrid approach to ocean energy – using platforms that produce 10% wave energy and 90% wind energy.

But Mr. Hamner’s dual-power system has run into a bureaucratic tangle – with the Minerals Management Service and FERC both wanting his company to meet widely divergent permit requirements, he says.

“What the public has to understand is that we are faced with a flat-out energy crisis,” Hamner says. “We have to change the regulatory system to develop a structure that’s realistic for what we’re doing.”

To be feasible, costs for offshore wind systems must come down. But even so, a big offshore wind farm with hundreds of turbines might cost $4 billion – while a larger coal-fired power plant is just as much and a nuclear power even more, he contends.

“There is no cheap solution,” Hamner says. “But if we’re successful, the prize could be a big one.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, April 17, 2009

space-solar-energy-jj-001San Francisco — PG&E has begun exploring renewable energy from space as it seeks approval from California state regulators, the CPUC, to purchase power from Solaren Corporation offering 200 megawatts over 15 years.

Solaren’s technology uses solar panels in Earth orbit, converting the energy to radio frequency for transmission to an Earth-based receiving station. The received radio frequency is converted into electricity and fed into the power grid. 

Solaren envisions deploying a solar array into space to beam an average of 850 gigawatt hours the first year of the term and 1,700 gigawatts per year over the remaining term according to their filing to the CPUC.

A clear advantage of solar in space is efficiency. From space, solar energy is converted into radio frequency waves, which are then beamed to Earth. The conversion rate of the RF waves to electricity is in the area of 90%, said Solaren CEO Gary Spirnak, citing U.S. government research. The conversion rate for a typical Earth-bound nuclear or coal-fired plant, meanwhile, is in the area of 33%. And space solar arrays are also 8-10 times more efficient than terrestrial solar arrays as there’s no atmospheric or cloud interference, no loss of sun at night and no seasons.

So space solar energy is a baseload resource, as opposed to Earth-based intermittent sources of solar power. Spirnak claims that space real estate is still free although hard to reach. Solaren seeks only land only for an Earth-based energy receiving station and may locate the station near existing transmission lines, greatly reducing costs.

While the concept of space solar power makes sense on white boards, making it all work affordably is a major challenge. Solar energy from space have a long history of research to draw upon. The U.S. Department of Energy and NASA began seriously studying the concept of solar power satellites in the 1970s, followed by a major “fresh look” in the Clinton administration.

The closest comparison to the proposed Fresno, California deployment is DirecTV, the satellite TV provider, Spirnak explained. DirecTV sends TV signals down to earth on solar-powered RF waves. However, when they reach the Earth, the solar energy is wasted, he said, as all the receivers pick up is the TV programming. 

Solaren claims they’ll be working with citizen groups and government agencies to support the project’s development. Solaren is required to get  all necessary permits and approvals from federal, state and local agencies.

At onset, in exploring space solar energy as in exploring all nascent technologies, explorers shall have to show and prove their renewable technology safe.

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COLIN SULLIVAN, The New York Times, April 14, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoPalo Alto — Technology for tapping ocean waves, tides and rivers for electricity is far from commercial viability and lagging well behind wind, solar and other fledgling power sectors, a panel of experts said last week during a forum here on climate change and marine ecosystems.

While the potential for marine energy is great, ocean wave and tidal energy projects are still winding their way through an early research and development phase, these experts said.

“It’s basically not commercially financeable yet,” said Edwin Feo, a partner at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, during a conference at Stanford University. “They are still a long ways from getting access to the capital and being deployed, because they are simply immature technologies.”

Ocean and tidal energy are renewable sources that can be used to meet California’s renewable portfolio standard of 10 percent of electricity by 2010. But the industry has been hampered by uncertainty about environmental effects, poor economics, jurisdictional tieups and scattered progress for a handful of entrepreneurs.

Finavera Renewables, based in British Columbia, recently canceled all of its wave projects, bringing to a close what was the first permit for wave power from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And last fall, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) denied Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s application for a power purchase agreement with Finavera Renewables, citing the technology’s immaturity.

Roger Bedard, head of the Electric Power Research Institute’s wave power research unit, said the United States is at least five and maybe 10 years away from the first commercial project in marine waters. A buoy at a Marine Corps base in Hawaii is the only wave-powered device that has been connected to the power grid so far in the United States. The first pilot tidal project, in New York’s East River, took five years to get a permit from FERC.

Feo, who handles renewable energy project financing at his law firm, says more than 80 ocean, tidal and river technologies are being tested by start-ups that do not have much access to capital or guarantee of long-term access to their resource. That has translated into little interest from the investment community.

“Most of these companies are start-ups,” Feo said. “From a project perspective, that doesn’t work. People who put money into projects expect long-term returns.”

William Douros of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expressed similar concerns and said agency officials have been trying to sort through early jurisdictional disputes and the development of some technologies that would “take up a lot of space on the sea floor.”

“You would think offshore wave energy projects are a given,” Douros said. “And yet, from our perspective, from within our agency, there are still a lot of questions.”

‘Really exciting times’

But the belief in marine energy is there in some quarters, prompting the Interior Department to clear up jurisdictional disputes with FERC for projects outside 3 miles from state waters. Under an agreement announced last week, Interior will issue leases for offshore wave and current energy development, while FREC will license the projects.

The agreement gives Interior’s Minerals Management Service exclusive jurisdiction over the production, transportation or transmission of energy from offshore wind and solar projects. MMS and FERC will share responsibilities for hydrokinetic projects, such as wave, tidal and ocean current.

Maurice Hill, who works on the leasing program at MMS, said the agency is developing “a comprehensive approach” to offshore energy development. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar himself has been holding regional meetings and will visit San Francisco this week to talk shop as part of that process.

Hill said MMS and the U.S. Geological Survey will issue a report within 45 days on potential development and then go public with its leasing program.

“These next couple of months are really exciting times, especially on the OCS,” he said.

Still, Hill acknowledged that the industry is in an early stage and said federal officials are approaching environmental effects especially with caution.

“We don’t know how they’ll work,” he said. “We’re testing at this stage.”

‘Highly energetic’ West Coast waves

But if projects do lurch forward, the Electric Power Research Institute’s Bedard said, the resource potential is off the charts. He believes it is possible to have 10 gigawatts of ocean wave energy online by 2025, and 3 gigawatts of river and ocean energy up in the same time frame.

The potential is greatest on the West Coast, Bedard said, where “highly energetic” waves pound the long coastline over thousands of miles. Alaska and California have the most to gain, he said, with Oregon, Washington and Hawaii not far behind.

To Feo, a key concern is the length of time MMS chooses to issue leases to developers. He said the typical MMS conditional lease time of two, three or five years won’t work for ocean wave technology because entrepreneurs need longer-term commitments to build projects and show investors the industry is here to say.

“It just won’t work” at two, three or five years, Feo said. “Sooner or later, you have to get beyond pilot projects.”

Hill refused to answer questions about the length of the leases being considered by MMS.

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MARSHA W. JOHNSTON, RenewableEnergyWorld.com, March 2009

One hundred and forty-one years ago, the relentless sea off Scotland’s coast inspired the following observation from native son and author George MacDonald:

I climbed the heights above the village, and looked abroad over the Atlantic. What a waste of aimless tossing to and fro! Gray mist above, full of falling rain; gray, wrathful waters underneath, foaming and bursting as billow broke upon billow…they burst on the rocks at the end of it, and rushed in shattered spouts and clouds of spray far into the air over their heads. “Will the time ever come,” I thought, when man shall be able to store up even this force for his own ends? Who can tell.”

In the United States, permitting may be an even bigger hurdle to marine energy deployment than financing. Between 25 and 35 different U.S. federal, state and local regulatory agencies claim some jurisdiction over marine power deployment. In the UK, two agencies handle permitting.

Today, we can certainly say, “Yes, the time will come.” The only question remaining is how long it will be before humankind routinely and widely uses electricity generated from the kinetic power of ocean tides, currents and waves.

If one defines “commercial ocean energy” as several tens of megawatts, the world cannot yet boast a commercial ocean energy installation. Indeed, only two installations of either wave, tidal or in-stream current devices are grid-connected and can generate over 1 megawatt (MW) of power. One is Pelamis Wave Power’s 2.25-MW Aguçadoura project off of Portugal’s northern coast and the other is Bristol-based Marine Current Turbines’ (MCT) SeaGen, a US $20-million commercial-scale tidal-energy project under development in Northern Ireland’s turbulent Strangford Narrows. In December, SeaGen boasted the first tidal turbine to hit a capacity of 1.2 MW.

(The biggest exception to commercial ocean energy production is the world’s longest running tidal power plant, the 240-MW La Rance, in France. But the plant’s barrage technology, which traps water behind a dam and releases it at low tide, has fallen out of favor due to its perceived higher environmental impact than underwater turbines. Nova Scotia has also been operating a 20-MW barrage Tidal Generating Station in the tidal-rich Bay of Fundy since 1984.)

The rest of the world’s wave, tidal and current installations, some of which have been in the water as far back as the 1990s, are experimental and prototype units ranging in size from 35 kilowatts (kW) to 400 kW. Because these units operate only intermittently and are not typically connected to any grid, it is not possible to determine their total power generation.

Many of these units are prototype demonstration units for the much bigger installations that are under development and that will begin to realize significant exploitation of the world’s ocean energy resource. For example, Ocean Power Technologies Inc. will use the 150-kW PowerBuoy it has been testing since the mid-90s as the “workhorse” for the 270-MW, four-site wave energy plant off California and Oregon coasts that it has partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop, says CEO George Taylor.

And Inverness, Scotland-based WaveGen expects to use 40 units of the 100-kw turbine it just installed off the Island of Islay for a 4-MW farm off of Scotland’s Isle of Lewis. Meanwhile, Pelamis says if its 750-kw “sea snake” devices, which were installed last year, make it through the winter, it will put 37 more of them in the water, generating 30 MW.

All of the wave, tidal, ocean and river current power around North America that can be practically extracted could together provide 10% of today’s electrical consumption in the U.S., says Roger Bedard, ocean energy leader at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, CA. He adds that the total water resource could, it is sometimes said, possibly power the world twice over, but a lot of it is out of reach. “Hudson’s Bay, off the Arctic Circle, has HUGE tidal power, but it is thousands of miles from where anyone lives. We have HUGE wave resources off Aleutian Islands, but the same problem,” he says.  See EPRI’s U.S. Offshore Wave Energy Resource Map, below.

What will be the “magic” year for large-scale ocean energy deployment? Most developers indicate 2011-2012. Trey Taylor, co-founder and president of Verdant Power, which is moving into the commercial development phase of its 7-year-old Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project, says the firm aims to have “at least 35 MW” in the water by the end of 2011.

Bedard is more circumspect. “I think it will be 2015 in Europe and 2025 in U.S. for big deployment,” he says, adding that the year cited depends entirely on the definition of “big” and “commercial,” which he defines as “many tens of megawatts.”

Verdant’s Taylor expects greater initial success in Canada. “The fundamental difference between Canada and the U.S. is that the underpinning of processes in Canada is collaborative and in the U.S. it is adversarial. It’s just the nature of Canadians, collaborating for community good, whereas in the U.S. people are afraid of being sued,” he said.

Bedard says the U.S. could catch up to Europe earlier, if the Obama Administration walks its big renewable energy infrastructure investment talk. “But if it’s business as usual, it could be later, depending on the economy,” he says.

Since the global economy began to melt down last September, many ocean energy companies have had to refocus their investment plans. With venture capital and institutional monies drying or dried up, firms are turning to public funds, strategic partners such as utilities and big engineering firms, and angel investors.

In November, MCT retained London-based Cavendish Corp Finance to seek new financing. Raymond Fagan, the Cavendish partner charged with MCT, said although tidal energy is not as advanced as wind or solar, he has seen a “strong level of interest so far from large engineering-type firms in MCT’s leading position.” Because MCT holds patents and is delivering power to the grid ahead of its competitors, Fagan thinks Cavendish can bring it together with such strategic partners.

In addition to the economic climate, he notes that the drop in oil and gas prices is further slowing renewable energy investment decisions. “Six to 12 months ago, people were leaping into renewable energy opportunities,” he says, adding that the UK government’s recent call for marine energy proposals for the enormous Pentland Firth zone north of Scotland will improve Cavendish’s chances of getting financing. Though it has yet to make a public announcement, MCT is widely viewed as a prime operator for the zone.

Monies are still available. Witness Pelamis Wave Power’s infusion of 5 million pounds sterling in November, which it says it will use for ongoing investment in core R&D and continuing development of its manufacturing processes and facilities.

In the U.S., permitting may be an even bigger hurdle to marine energy deployment than financing. Between 25 and 35 different U.S. federal, state and local regulatory agencies claim some jurisdiction over marine power deployment. In the UK, two agencies handle permitting. Bedard notes however, that streamlining the process in the U.S. may have begun with the recent opening of a new six-month process for licensing pilot marine energy plants.

Marine energy experts agree that there are more opportunities for wave power than for tidal, as there are simply fewer exploitable tidal sites. In technology terms, however, tidal turbines have benefited from a quarter century of wind turbine development, says Virginia Tech professor George Hagerman. Despite more widely available wave resource, wave energy developers face the challenge of needing many more devices than do tidal energy developers, and have a higher cabling cost to export the power.

As Christopher Barry, co-chair of the Ocean Renewable Energy panel at the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, explains: “The major challenge [to ocean energy] is not pure technology, but the side issues of power export and making the technology affordable and survivable.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 11, 2009

17transition2-6001Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he has just signed his first order establishing renewable energy generation as the top priority of the Department of the Interior. Following President Obama’s lead in steering the United States into this new energy path, he said this agenda would create jobs and grow investment and innovation at home. Also noted was that the DOI will focus mostly in western states for generation of electricity through renewable energy (solar, wind, wave, geothermal, biomass).

Secretary Salazar illustrated this opportunity with the Bureau of Land Management backlog over 200 solar energy projects and over 20 wind projects in western states alone. There have yet been any permits or jobs created for these renewable energy projects to be fast-tracked in consideration, evaluated in terms of environmental impact and anticipating the acceptable projects will move forward swiftly.

Starting today, renewable energy projects in solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal and biomass will benefit in priority treatment to generate electricity and renewable energy. And Secretary Salazar stated that a newly-formed energy and climate change task force is already working hard, nights and weekend to develop these plans (since January 20th) for presentation to a Dept. of Energy committee soon. 

In tandem, Secretary Salazar indicated that through cross-departmental effort (BLM, EPA, Dept. of Energy, MMS, FERC and others), his goal is to rapidly and responsibly move forward with Obama’s renewable energy agenda to develop and upgrade the United States electric transmission grid.  

When asked about Cape Wind off Cape Cod, Mr. Salazar indicate that “after we hold our hearings around the country [for MMS rulemaking] the jurisdictional issues between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Minerals Management Service shall be accomplished within this year.” Many projects are being inhibited and we are actively clearing the path to move forward.

The roadshow planned by Secretary Salazar shall help identify renewable energy zones (solar energy in western states minus ecological sensitivity (reduction). He explained that today, through solar energy in the western states alone, we may produce 88% of all of the energy needs and adding wind takes it over 100%. This also fuels the need for a national transmission system as a high priority.

Salazar also called for the need to finalize and renew offshore renewable energy rules that protect the United States landscapes, wildlife and environment as we serve as steward of our lands.

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wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoMendoCoastCurrent, February 14, 2009

Acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff recently published Facilitating Hydrokinetic Energy Development Through Regulatory Innovation

Consider it required reading as a backgrounder on US wave energy policy development, FERC’s position on the MMS in renewables and FERC’s perceived role as a government agency in renewable energy, specifically marine energy, development.

Missing from this key document are the environmental and socio-economic-geographic elements and the related approval process and regulations for:

  • environmental exposure, noting pre/during/post impact studies and mitigation elements at each and every marine energy location;
  • socio-economic factors at each and every marine location (including a community plan with local/state/federal levels of participation).

Approaching the marine renewable energy frontier with a gestalt view toward technology, policy and environmental concerns is a recommended path for safe exploration and development of new renewable energy solutions.  

It has been FERC’s position that energy regulatory measures and policies must precede before serious launch of US projects and other documents by Wellinghoff have noted a six month lead time for policy development alone.

MendoCoastCurrent sees all elements fast-tracked in tandem.  Environmental studies/impact statements are gathered as communities gear up to support the project(s) while technology and funding partners consider siting with best practices and cost-efficient deployment of safe marine energy generation.  All of these elements happen concurrently while FERC, DOI/MMS, DOE local and state governments explore, structure and build our required, new paradigm for safe and harmonious ocean energy policies.

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PETER BROWN, EnergyCurrent.com, February 16, 2009

stromnessOn a Monday morning in May last year, the Atlantic tide set a turbine in motion on the seabed off Orkney, and the energy captured was connected to the national grid. It was, said Jim Mather, Scotland’s Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, a “massive step forward”.

The amount of electricity generated may have been tiny, but for marine engineers the significance was huge. Their industry had stopped paddling and started to swim.

For small companies trying to get wave or tide devices off the drawing board and into the sea, many problems lie in wait. All turbines, whether they sit on the seabed or float, must withstand that once-in-a-century wave that could be a thousand times more powerful than the average. Conditions vary with the seasons and the seabed. A device that works in a fjord might not function in a firth. Rigorous, long-term testing is therefore vital.

“There are parallels with wind,” says Alan Mortimer, head of renewables policy at Scottish Power. “Many different types of turbine were proposed in the early Eighties. They boiled down to a small number of successful concepts. The same needs to happen with marine devices, but the difference is that they need to be full- size just to be tested.

“To get a reasonable number of prototypes into the water costs millions. What these small companies need is capital support.”

That, however, is hard to find. The Wave and Tidal Energy Support Scheme (Wates), which put GBP13.5 million into promising technologies, is now closed. Last year the Scottish Government offered the 10m Saltire Prize for a commercially viable scheme, but the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), in its recent report Marine Energy: More Than Just a Drop in the Ocean?, called on the Government to provide another 40m.

This would go towards schemes to be tested at EMEC, the European Marine Energy Centre, which has two supported sites, with grid access, at Orkney. It was there that an Irish company, OpenHydro, made the grid breakthrough last year. “It’s desperately important that we grasp the nettle now,” says William Banks, IMechE’s president. “We have the micro-systems in place and I’d like to see them developed to the macro stage. However, unless we do that step by step, we’ll be in trouble.”

An estimated 50 teams are working around the world on marine energy. The danger is that Britain, and Scotland in particular, could lose the race, even though, as Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, says, “Scotland has a marine energy resource which is unrivalled in Europe.”

Scotland has a quarter of Europe’s tidal resources and a tenth of its wave potential.

Around 1,000 people work in Scottish marine energy, but that figure could billow. “You’re talking about an exercise that could transform the marine industry into something equivalent to oil and gas,” says Martin McAdam, whose company, Aquamarine Power, is growing fast.

Among his rivals in Scotland are AWS Ocean Energy, based near Inverness, with Archimedes, a submerged wave machine; Hammerfest UK, which wants to develop three 60MW tidal sites and is working with Scottish Power; Pelamis Wave Power, who are based in Edinburgh; and Scotrenewables, based in Orkney, who are currently developing a floating tidal turbine.

Politicians need to be educated about marine energy’s potential, says Banks. Indeed, IMechE has highlighted the need for sustained political leadership if what many see as the biggest problem – that of the grid – is to be solved. Why bring energy onshore if it can’t then reach homes?

“Grids were built to connect large power stations to cities. Now you’re going to have electricity generated all over the countryside. It’s a huge challenge,” says McAdam.

“We have had meetings with Ofgen and the national grid companies and we’re outlining the need to have grids to support at least 3,000MW of energy by 2020. That is definitely possible.” McAdam adds: “A European undersea grid is also being promoted and we’re very supportive of that.”

Such a system would help to overcome a frequent objection to renewables – their fickleness. If waves were strong in Scotland, Finland or France could benefit, and vice versa.

Another challenge is the cost of installation. “At the moment we’re competing with oil and gas for boats,” says McAdam. “We need to move away from using heavy-lift, jack-up vessels.” The answer might be devices that can be floated into position and then weighted down.

The race between suppliers is speeding up. Permission for a 4MW station at Siadar, off Lewis in the Western Isles, has just been granted to Wavegen, based in Inverness, and Npower Renewables. It could power about 1,500 homes, creating 70 jobs.

Among the success stories are the three 140-metre, red tubes developed by Pelamis (named after a sea serpent) which already float off the northern Portuguese coast at Aguadoura. More Pelamis turbines are to be installed at EMEC, along with Aquamarine’s wave device Oyster.

Oyster is basically a giant flap which feeds wave energy onshore to be converted to electricity. It has already been made, at a former oil and gas plant at Nigg, north of Inverness. A high- pressure pipeline was completed in December and a hydro-electric station will be installed this spring. In the summer, Oyster will finally be bolted to piles hammered into the seabed.

Unlike wave energy, tidal power needs a channel between two land masses – and in the roaring Pentland Firth, between Caithness and Orkney, Scotland has what has been called “the Saudi Arabia of marine power”, Europe’s largest tidal resource. To exploit it, a GBP2 million contract to build Aquamarine’s tidal power device, Neptune, was awarded last month. It will be tested at EMEC.

Elsewhere, SeaGen, an “underwater windmill” developed by a Bristol company, has just generated 1.2MW near the mouth of Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.
But the most controversial of Britain’s tidal energy schemes is, of course, in the Severn Estuary, where a barrage could provide around 5% of Britain’s energy. Environmentalists fear irreparable damage to marshes and mudflats, but the Government is known to prefer the barrage to other, smaller options. The decision it takes next year is sure to be eagerly watched in Scotland.

Somewhat overshadowed by the Severn plan is Wave Hub, a project to build a wave-power station 10 miles off St Ives, on Cornwall’s north coast, using both Pelamis and a sea-bed device developed by ORECon of Plymouth. An application to create a safety area around it has just been submitted, part of the meticulous planning that precedes any marine trial.

“We have to have environmentalists looking at the impact on fisheries, flora and fauna,” says McAdam. “And we have to be completely open with the communities we’re going into. But most people realise that climate change and energy security are real things. We want to minimalise our environmental impact and give the country a means of isolating itself from the volatility of oil and gas.”

In theory, marine energy could generate a fifth of the UK’s electricity needs, but that would require a multitude of stations. Bill Banks believes nuclear power will be needed. “But we also need a variety of renewables,” he says. “Marine will take its place along with bio, hydro and wind energy. It’s available, it’s there at the moment, and if we get our act together I think we can lead Europe. We need a synergy of activity.”

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MendoCoastCurrent from Platts Energy Podium, February 12, 2009

The recently approved Economic Stimulus Plan includes expanding the US electric transmission grid and this may be the just the start of what will be a costly effort to improve reliability and deliver renewable energy to consumers from remote locations, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Acting Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told the Platts Energy Podium on February 12, 2009.

Wellinghoff defines the Stimulus energy funds as “seed money. But it really isn’t [enough] money to make huge advances in the overall backbone grid that we’re talking about to integrate substantial amounts of wind.”

While details of the plan compromises are unclear, the measure could provide $10 billion or more to transmission upgrades. Wellinghoff said backbone transmission projects could cost more than $200 billion. “And I think we’ll see that money coming from the private sector,” based on proposals already submitted to FERC.

Wellinghoff’s focused on Congress strengthening federal authority to site interstate high-voltage electric transmission lines to carry wind power to metropolitan areas and expects FERC to be heavily involved in formulation of either a comprehensive energy bill or a series of bills meant to address obstacles to increasing renewable wind, solar and geothermal energy, and other matters that fall within FERC’s purview. 

FERC plays a critical role “given the authorities we’ve been given in the 2005 and 2007 acts and our capabilities with respect to policy and implementation of energy infrastructure.”

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Washington Post Editorial, February 12, 2009

Interior Secretary Salazar Keeps his Options Open on Offshore Drilling 

17transition2-6001Here’s the ultimate midnight regulation: On the very last day of the Bush administration, the Interior Department proposed a new five-year plan for oil and gas leasing on the outer continental shelf. All hearings and other meetings on the scope of the plan, which would have opened as much as 300 million acres of seafloor to drilling, were to be completed by March 23, 2009. On Tuesday, Ken Salazar, President Obama’s interior secretary, pushed back the clock 180 days, imposing order on a messy process.

Mr. Bush’s midnight maneuver would have auctioned oil and gas leases without regard to how they fit into a larger strategy for energy independence. More can be done on the shelf than punching for pools of oil to satisfy the inane “drill, baby, drill” mantra that masqueraded as Republican energy policy last summer.

Mr. Salazar’s 180-day extension of the comment period is the first of four actions that he says will give him “sound information” on which to base a new offshore plan for the five years starting in 2012. He has directed the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to round up all the information they have about offshore resources within 45 days. This will help the department determine where seismic tests should be conducted. Some of the data on the Atlantic are more than 30 years old.

The secretary will then conduct four regional meetings within 30 days of receiving that report to hear testimony on how best to proceed. Mr. Salazar has committed to issuing a final rule on offshore renewable energy resources “in the next few months.” Developing plans to harness wind, wave and tidal energy offshore would make for a more balanced approach to energy independence. It would also have the advantage of complying with the law. Mr. Salazar helped to write a 2005 statute mandating that Interior issue regulations within nine months to guide the development of those offshore renewable energy sources [the Energy Policy Act of 2005], a requirement that the Bush administration ignored.

Mr. Salazar’s announcement was also notable for what it didn’t do. Much to the chagrin of some environmental advocates, it didn’t take offshore drilling off the table. Nor did it cut oil and gas interests out of the discussion.

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DANIEL B. WOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2009

Less than a month into his administration, President Obama is making good on campaign promises to move toward a comprehensive approach to US energy and to broaden environmental protections. The administration has moved over the past few weeks to undo many of Bush’s last-minute drilling and environmental decisions, including putting the brakes Tuesday on a plan to open up vast new areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling.

In swift succession, the Obama administration has:

  • Ordered the Environmental Protection Authority to reconsider its decision to deny California permission to set standards controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles – if permitted, this would allow 13 more states to follow suit.
  • Abandoned a Bush administration legal appeal in a major air pollution case – signaling it will allow tougher rules to cut mercury emissions from power plants.
  • Canceled 77 Bush-era oil and gas leases over 100,000 acres of public land near national parks in Utah.
  • Announced an intent to develop an offshore energy plan that includes renewable resources, giving states and the federal government more time to study and assess the future of offshore energy planning.

“There’s clearly a new kid in town. The Obama administration is moving quicker on the environment than anything else,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “They are concerned that untoward things are going to happen before they can get new policies in place, so they are trying to reverse old ones.”

In the most recent move to stall Bush policy, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the time period for public comment on a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing would be extended for another 180 days. He also ordered the US Geological Survey and the Minerals Management Service to develop an extensive profile of the nation’s resources offshore.

The plan, which was proposed by the Bush administration on its last day in office and published the day after President Obama took office, originally allowed 45 days for scoping and comment.

Describing the plan as “a headlong rush of the worst kind,” Mr. Salazar said that “Bush’s “midnight action” accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the outer continental shelf.

“It opened up the possibility for oil and gas leasing along the entire Eastern Seaboard, portions of offshore California, and the far eastern Gulf of Mexico, with almost no consideration of state, industry, and community input and … with very limited information about the nature of offshore resources,” he said.

The new administration will look at offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan, he said. The changes are to “fulfill President Obama’s commitment to a government that is open and inclusive and makes decisions based on sound science and the public interest.”

“I intend to do what the Bush administration refused to do; build a framework for offshore renewable-energy development so that we incorporate the great potential for wind, wave, and ocean current energy into our offshore energy strategy.”

In a similar move last week, the Interior secretary announced that the Bureau of Land Management would withdraw drilling leases that were offered on 77 parcels of US public land near national parks in Utah. The leases, on land totaling 103, 225 acres, are under litigation in district court.

Development of oil and gas supplies was needed to help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but it must be done in a “thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and culture resources,” said Salazar, adding that the BLM would return $6 million in bids from an auction last December.

Also last week, the Justice Department said it is withdrawing a US Supreme Court appeal filed by the Bush administration against a court ruling governing mercury emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

The Obama administration has also told the EPA to reconsider denying California the power to regulate vehicular pollution. The Bush administration’s EPA in 2007 had denied California the waiver needed to authorize its special status under the Clean Air Act. That law gives California the authority to regulate vehicular pollution because the state began doing so before the federal government did.

Leading environmental groups, which were often at odds with Bush, are breathing a palpable sigh of relief. “We are encouraged by Obama’s announcement that he is going to restore order to a broken system and that is what this is,” says Kristina Johnson, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club.

“This five-year offshore drilling program that Bush tried to push through wasn’t based on sound science, and there was no public input,” she said. “It’s part of a new way of doing business. [The Obama administration understands] that the answer to America’s energy problems isn’t more drilling and that we need to be investing in clean energy.”

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DAVID EWENCHIEF, The Evening Express, February 11, 2009

images2The Aberdeenshire Council has pointed to tides – rather than wind turbines – as the best green solution to the energy crisis. The council took part in a consultation on the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Bill, which is going through Parliament, suggesting tide and current generation would be more reliable than wind turbines. “Wind cannot take up the slack. And we have a fair amount of coastline to play with,” a report said.

Aberdeenshire council suggested mini hydro-electric schemes on its rivers could also be more effective than wind turbines. Nearly 200 wind turbines have already been approved in the Northeast.

Mervyn Newberry, former chairman of the Skelmonae Windfarm Action Group, said he was not surprised at Aberdeenshire council’s sudden change of heart over the wind turbines. “It is completely expected,” he said. “The politicians just go with whatever is popular at the time. Though I am not as familiar with tidal energy, I am certainly more in favour of this form of energy because it doesn’t destroy the environment.”

Tarves, in Aberdeenshire, has been hit with a proposal for four wind turbines. Chairman of Tarves Community Council Bob Davidson claimed Aberdeenshire Council has been inconsistent in backing wind turbines. “I would not be surprised at inconsistency from the local authority,” he said.

Today Aberdeenshire Council boss Anne Robertson defended the use of wind turbines. She pointed out that tide technology has lagged behind wind-based technology in the North-east. Mrs Robertson stressed that the impact of wind turbines on the landscape was always considered. She said: “The wind turbine issue is one that has been dealt with through the planning process. “There have been quite a number of schemes turned down in Aberdeenshire.”

In its response to the bill consultation, Aberdeen City Council stressed the “importance of joint working” to reduce energy consumption. Wind turbines planned for Aberdeen Bay could supply all of the city’s houses with electricity.

Aberdeen-based Green Ocean Energy Ltd is developing a wave-based energy system to work alongside wind turbines. The Scottish Government rules on planning projects at sea.

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ROB DAVIS, VoiceOfSanDiego.org, February 8, 2009

images1With California’s water supplies crimped and cuts on the way, the idea of a new water source in San Diego is making politicians salivate.

The seawater desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources Corp. is advertised as being able to tap into the Pacific Ocean, a drought-proof supply. Now the state sits in a drought. And with the project’s permitting nearly finished, state leaders are lining up in support — from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Linda Adams, the state’s environmental protection secretary.

Their message to the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the last agency to withhold needed permits: Enough already. Stop slowing down construction.

So the regional board, the local water pollution regulator, is being assailed from both proponents and opponents of the project. Environmental groups have sued the regional board for giving conditional approval to the desalination plant. And state leaders are flexing their political muscles, urging the board to go all the way.

“The political interest in this item is huge,” said John Robertus, the regional board’s executive officer. “And every day it doesn’t rain, it goes up a notch.”

The regional board in 2006 granted a necessary permit to Poseidon, which will allow it to discharge into the Pacific. But it came with conditions, including developing a specific plan for mitigating the plant’s impact on marine life. The agency’s staff proposes to continue withholding approval until Poseidon refines its mitigation plans. The discussion is scheduled Wednesday. Asked whether the agency is feeling political pressure, Robertus said: “Certainly. Water is about politics.”

The desalination plant has always had the region’s attention. But with mandatory water-use restrictions likely coming to Southern California this summer, the project has grabbed the attention of the governor and other state officials. The plant, which could begin operating in December 2011 at the earliest, would boost San Diego’s supply 10%. The project will set the precedent for other desalination efforts.

At least one will follow on the Carlsbad plant’s heels. Poseidon, a private Connecticut-based company, is seeking permits for a plant in Huntington Beach. But Carlsbad’s challenges were greater, and so it has pushed that project first. The regulatory examples set there will be followed in Huntington Beach and in any other seawater desalination plants.

“As goes Carlsbad, so goes the rest of the coast,” Robertus said. “This is a contentious issue. And it’s going to get more intense as we get closer to the date when they begin to pump water.”

At the center of the current debate is Poseidon’s plan to mitigate the plant’s impacts on marine life. It will suck in 304 million gallons of seawater daily and turn 50 million gallons into drinking water. The filtered-out salt will be diluted with the remaining 254 million gallons and sent back to the ocean.

The pumps that draw in that water will kill about two pounds of fish each day. (Poseidon says this is less than the daily consumption of an adult brown pelican). They’ll also squash 11 million to 16 million fish larvae daily — four billion to five billion annually.

State regulators are requiring Poseidon to mitigate that damage by restoring 37 acres of wetlands. The company estimates it would cost $10 million wherever it decides to repair damaged habitat and build a functioning ecosystem.

This hang-up has everyone’s attention. The regional board wants Poseidon to pick a specific site. Poseidon has identified 11 and says it will decide on a specific location later. Five are in San Diego County: the Tijuana River Valley, San Elijo Lagoon, San Dieguito River Valley, Agua Hedionda Lagoon and Buena Vista Lagoon. Others are in Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The company says picking a site now would require a lengthy environmental review and delay the plant’s construction. The company promises to choose a site and finish mitigation before the plant begins operating, Poseidon spokesman Scott Maloni said.

The environmental groups that have sued say Poseidon has the process backward. The company should not be able to get approval for building its project, they say, before completely identifying its mitigation plans.

“It’s not responsible for the agencies to approve a project without these questions being answered,” said Gabriel Solmer, legal director for San Diego Coastkeeper. “Just because Poseidon has said ‘We’ll do whatever it takes and we’ll find a place to do mitigation,’ that shouldn’t be sufficient. You should know where the mitigation is going to occur.”

As that debate continues, state leaders are interjecting their comments. The regional board has received letters urging approval from Schwarzenegger; Linda Adams; Mike Chrisman, the natural resources secretary; and A.G. Kawamura, the food and agriculture secretary. Donald Koch, director of the state Department of Fish and Game, wrote that mitigation plans were sufficient.

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 31, 2009

On January 26, 2009, Lockheed Martin and Ocean Power Technologies agreed to work together to develop a commercial-scale wave energy project off the coasts of Oregon or California.

OPT is providing their expertise in project and site development as they build the plant’s power take-off and control systems with their PowerBuoy for electricity generation.  Lockheed will build, integrate and deploy the plant as well as provide operating and maintenance services. Lockheed and OPT have already worked together on maritime projects for the U.S. government.

Spanish utility Iberdrola is using OPT’s PowerBuoy on the Spainish coast in Santoña for first phase deployment, hoping to become the first commercial-scale wave energy device in the world.  In the Spainish project, Lockheed and Ocean Power are working toward an increased cost-performance of a power-purchasing agreement from which this U.S. wave energy project may benefit.

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Editors Note:  On May 11, 2009, PG&E pulled-out of Mendocino WaveConnect, read it here: http://tinyurl.com/qwlbg6 . The remains of the $6M are now solely allocated to Humboldt WaveConnect.

MendoCoastCurrent, January 29, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoPG&E caught a major renewable energy wave today as the California Public Utilities Commission approved $4.8 million in funding their centerpiece wave energy project, WaveConnect. The program also received an additional $1.2 million in matching funds from the Department of Energy. PG&E’s WaveConnect, a project already two years in the making, launches with a $6M kitty.

WaveConnect is chartered with exploring wave energy development off the coasts of Mendocino and Humboldt counties in Northern California. The stakeholders in this region are dyed-in-the-wool political activists, living in environmentally-centric coastal communities and have reacted protectively, sounding alarms that PG&E and the Federal government’s wave energy plans may foul, diminish and destroy the Pacific Ocean and marine life.

Over the two years that PG&E and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) advanced WaveConnect, only recently have environmental concerns and study become part of the discussion. The opportunity for Mendocino and Humboldt coastal communities and local governments to embrace wave energy development and connect with WaveConnect has not gone well, especially as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has disallowed the City of Fort Bragg and local fishermen to be party in the WaveConnect FERC Preliminary Permitting.

Jonathan Marshall, publisher of Next100, a PG&E blog, wrote “PG&E’s first step will be to conduct meetings with local stakeholders and agencies to learn about their issues and concerns. After completing appropriate environmental reviews and permit applications, which could take a couple of years, PG&E then plans to build an undersea infrastructure, including power transmission cables, to support wave energy demonstration projects. The utility will then invite manufacturers of wave energy devices to install them offshore for testing and comparison.”

“The anticipated cost of wave power compares favorably to the early days of solar and wind,” says William Toman, WaveConnect project manager at PG&E. “It will take several stages of design evolution to lower costs and increase reliability.” The CPUC and the DOE are betting on this evolution as in this funding scenario engineered by PG&E, the CPUC awards $4.8M in ratepayer funds while the DOE $1.2M is a matching grant.

Wave energy may become a key source of renewable energy in California. It’s proposed that the 745-mile coastline could produce 1/5th of California’s energy needs if, admittedly a big if, economic, environmental, land use and grid connection issues — and community issues — don’t stand in the way.

Marshall wrote in closing “Making ocean power technology work reliably and at a competitive price will be the first big challenge. Serving offshore installations with power transmission lines will be another economic and engineering hurdle. Finally, ocean power developers must also convince local communities and government regulators that their installations will not destroy marine life, cause boating collisions or navigational hazards, or degrade ocean views.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 29, 2009

As the Monday, February 9, 2009 before 2 p.m. deadline for filing FERC Motion to Intervene papers regarding the Green Wave LLC wave energy preliminary permit off the Mendocino village coast approaches, locals, the City of Fort Bragg and fishing organization are participating and electronically filing their views with FERC.

Here’s the excellent brief filed by the County of  Mendocino, California:  HERE

Have you filed your FERC Motion to Intervene today?

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STEPHEN POWER, The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2009
images1Interior Secretary Ken Salazar indicated Tuesday that the Obama Administration could be open to expanded offshore drilling and is considering doing away with a controversial program that allows oil companies to pay in kind for oil and natural gas taken from public lands.

Salazar inherited a Bush Administration plan that would open tracts off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts where drilling had previously been prohibited. Environmental groups want the Obama administration to re-impose a ban on expanded offshore drilling that President George W. Bush lifted last year.

Asked in an interview with The Wall Street Journal whether President Barack Obama might try to reinstate the ban, Salazar paused 18 seconds before saying: “I don’t know.”

“We have significant drilling already in many places of the Gulf coast. We have drilling in many places off the Alaska shorelines. There are other places that hold potential for exploration. We’ll develop our guidelines as to how we’re going to look at it. But we’re still at the beginning of an information-gathering process,” he said.

Asked about the Bush administration’s proposal to open certain areas of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling and whether he saw any opportunities for expanded development of the nation’s offshore areas, Salazar said: “When you look at the whole [outer continental shelf], it’s a huge potential. And it has to be done carefully. We don’t want to ruin the beaches of Florida and the coastlines of other places that are sensitive.”

“On the other hand, there are places where it may be appropriate for us to have reconnaissance and exploration and even development. Those are questions that we are exploring and hopefully over the months ahead we’ll have answers to these questions,” he said.

Salazar left the door open to curtailing the “royalty-in-kind” program, under which the government receives oil or natural gas instead of cash for payments of royalties from companies that lease federal property for oil and gas development, and then sells the product into the marketplace and returns the proceeds to the Treasury. “We’re going to put everything on the table — I think everything needs to be looked at,” Salazar said.

Meanwhile, Salazar said new legislation may be needed to overhaul the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service, a bureau of Interior that manages the nation’s offshore oil and natural gas reserves.

Salazar said his top priority is to restore confidence in the agency, and in particular the MMS, which was rocked last fall by a report from the department’s inspector general that accused some MMS employees of accepting gifts from and having sex with oil and gas industry representatives whose activities they were supposed to regulate.

Although the Bush administration late last year announced disciplinary action ranging from warnings to termination of more than a half-dozen workers implicated in the report, Salazar said he is mulling “whether additional actions are required.”

Many environmental groups are looking to Salazar to reverse certain policy changes made in the final months of the Bush administration, including new regulations on commercial oil-shale development that the groups say lock in inappropriately low royalty rates for energy firms. Salazar said he and his aides intend to review “all those issues” and that “I expect that there will be changes.”

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CASSANDRA PROFITA, The Daily Astorian, January 26, 2009

In a move eagerly anticipated by liquefied natural gas opponents on the North Coast of Oregon, President Barack Obama has named Jon Wellinghoff acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“The move, together with likely changes to the board’s makeup in the coming months and pending challenges to the U.S. Court of Appeals, could have consequences for the Bradwood Landing LNG project, the front-runner among three LNG proposals in Oregon.

Wellinghoff, a Democrat, was the lone dissenting vote on the Bradwood project, which was approved by FERC in a 4-1 vote in September. He replaces former chairman Joseph Kelliher, a Republican, who stepped down earlier this month but remains on the board as he looks for new job opportunities.

Wellinghoff helped establish FERC’s Energy Innovations Sector to promote new technologies and was also the main author of the renewable energy standards established in Nevada, where he served as the state’s first consumer advocate for customers of public utilities. Environmentalists expect the commission to put a higher priority on energy efficiency and renewable resources under his leadership.

“The new chairman is technically only one vote, but he does help set the agenda for the discussions and considerations of FERC,” said Peter Huhtala, executive director of the Astoria-based Columbia River Business Alliance, which is opposed to LNG. “It’s a step in the right direction, certainly.”

Wellinghoff traveled to Oregon in 2007 to talk with local and state leaders about the three LNG projects proposed in Oregon. Two proposed terminals are on the lower Columbia River and one is in Coos Bay.

“He listened to our concerns,” said Huhtala. “I felt like we were listened to, and – son of a gun – he followed up.”

Wellinghoff voted against the $650 million Bradwood Landing project, proposed for a site 20 miles east of Astoria on the Columbia River, arguing that the project developers have not proven the LNG terminal is needed to meet the region’s energy needs, that more efficient, reliable and environmentally preferable alternatives could substitute for LNG, and that “significant environmental concerns” about the project had not been fully evaluated.

Several challenges to FERC’s approval of the Bradwood project are still in the works, and two FERC board members, Kelliher and Commissioner Suedeen Kelly, whose term ends June 30 are likely to be replaced by Obama appointees in the next six months.

“It starts to get real easy to count to three, doesn’t it?” said Huhtala.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of the LNG opponent group Columbia Riverkeeper, said by the time the Bradwood project developers have met more than 100 conditions placed on the September approval, the board may have a different opinion of what meets federal regulations.

“Bradwood is far from meeting its conditions and far from getting its approval to start construction,” he said. “FERC’s approval says there can’t be any construction, any action, until they get final approval from FERC after satisfying all the conditions. We expect FERC to look at Bradwood with a more critical eye when determining the conditions.”

Columbia Riverkeeper and Gov. Ted Kulongoski are both planning to file a challenge to FERC’s approval of the Bradwood project at the U.S. Court of Appeals this week. The state of Washington and regional tribes may file similar challenges, as well.

If the court overturns the Bradwood approval, FERC will have to revisit the case and may even be forced to redo the environmental assessment of the project.

“With a new chair, new FERC members and a decision from the court rejecting FERC’s initial approval, we may very well get a different answer,” said VandenHeuvel.

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Let Your Voice Be Heard by March 23, 2009

by MendoCoastCurrent and pointarenabasin

Beginning January 22, 2009 and ending on March 23, 2009, a 60-day Public Comment Period opened regarding new offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling in the pristine waters off northern California.

And while this is a multi-step process and before things are cast in stone, NOW is the time to share your views.

FROM THE FEDERAL REGISTER – REQUEST FOR PUBLIC COMMENTS

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR – Minerals Management Service

Request for Comments on the Draft Proposed 5-Year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 and Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Proposed 5-Year Program

AGENCY: Minerals Management Service, Interior.

ACTION: Request for Comments.

SUMMARY: The Minerals Management Service (MMS) requests comments on the Draft Proposed 5-year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 (DPP). This draft proposal is for a new oil and gas program to succeed the current program that is currently set to expire on June 30, 2012, and forms the basis for conducting the studies and analyses the Secretary will consider in making future decisions on what areas of the OCS to include in the program.

DATES: Please submit comments and information to the MMS no later than March 23, 2009.

LINK:  Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Under the tab “More Search Options,” click “Advanced Docket Search,” then select “Minerals Management Service” from the agency drop-down menu, then click the submit button. In the Docket ID column, select MMS-2008-OMM-0045 to submit public comments and to view related materials available for this Notice.

Mail or hand-carry comments to the Department of the Interior; Minerals Management Service; Attention: Leasing Division (LD); 381 Elden Street, MS-4010; Herndon, Virginia 20170-4817. Please reference “2010-2015 Oil and Gas Leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf,” in your comments and include your name and return address.

Summary of the Draft Proposed Program

In developing the DPP for 2010-2015, the MMS considered oil and gas leasing in the areas of the OCS that are included in the current 5-year program for 2007-2012 and additional areas off Alaska, Pacific coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic coast. Some of these additional areas had been subject to annual congressional moratoria prohibiting oil and gas leasing. However, the moratoria expired on September 30, 2008. The DPP includes lease sales in offshore areas that have the highest oil and gas resource values and highest industry interest.

It has been promoted that 47 comments from oil and gas companies or associations nominated specific planning areas to be included in the new 5-Year program; some nominated all planning area.  

Wave energy reporter Frank Hartzell claims that the nominations may have been fabricated, see In Last Days, Bush Inflicts North Coast Offshore Oil Plan.

Table A–Draft Proposed Program for 2010-2015–Lease Sale Schedule

———————————————————————

Sale Number Area Year

———————————————————————

236…………………… Northern California………..2014

Pacific Region

The Pacific Region consists of 4 planning areas–Washington-Oregon, Northern California, Central California, and Southern California. The DPP schedules one sale in the Northern California Planning Area and two in the Southern California Planning Area. The proposed sales are in areas of known hydrocarbon potential – the Point Arena Basin in Northern California.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Preparation

Pursuant to section 102(2)(C) of NEPA, the MMS intends to prepare an EIS for the new 5-year OCS oil and gas leasing program for 2010-2015. This notice starts the formal scoping process for the EIS under 40 CFR 1501.7, and solicits information regarding issues and alternatives that should be evaluated in the EIS. The EIS will analyzethe potential impacts of the adoption of the proposed 5-year program.

The comments that MMS has received in response to the August 2008, Request for Comments, and the comments received during scoping for the 2007-2012 5-Year EIS have identified environmental issues and concerns that MMS will consider in the EIS. In summary, these include climate change as an impact factor in cumulative analyses, the effects of the OCS program on climate change, potential impacts from accidental oil spills, potential impacts to tourism and recreation activities, and ecological impacts from potential degradation of marine and coastal habitats. Additionally alternatives will be developed and analyzed during the EIS process based on scoping comments and governmental communications. Alternatives may include increasing or decreasing the number or frequency of sales, coastal buffers, limiting areas available for leasing, and excluding parts of or entire planning areas.

Scoping Meetings

Meetings will be held between now and March 23, 2009 to receive scoping comments on the EIS including –

Ft. Bragg/Ukiah, California; TBA

Next Steps in the Process

The MMS plans to issue the proposed program and draft EIS in mid-summer 2009 for a 90-day comment period and plans to issue the proposed final program and final EIS in spring 2010. The Secretary of the Interior may approve the new 5-year program 60 days later to go into effect as of July 1, 2010.

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JANE KAY, San Francisco Chronicle, January 17, 2009

ba-drilling0117__sfcg1232159552_part1The U.S. Interior Department, acting in President Bush’s final days in office, proposed on Friday opening up 130 million acres off of California’s coast to drilling for oil and natural gas, including areas off Humboldt and Mendocino counties and from San Luis Obispo south to San Diego.

After a hands-off policy for a quarter-century, the administration submitted plans to sell oil and gas leases for most of the U.S. coast, from the Gulf of Maine to Chesapeake Bay and the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast.

New drilling also was proposed in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the nation’s most plentiful sources of fish, and the Arctic Ocean.

Washington, Oregon and protected parts of Florida were excluded along with waters off San Francisco Bay that lie within national marine sanctuaries.

On Friday, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups greeted the news with praise, saying it is time for domestic energy supplies to be released from the moratorium.

But environmental groups and some Democratic leaders who oppose California drilling criticized the 11th-hour move, vowing to work with the Obama administration to promote energy independence based on clean, renewable technologies.

“President Bush’s last-ditch effort to open our coasts to new drilling is nothing more than a parting gift to his buddies in the oil and gas industry,” said Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the platform blowout that spilled 3 million gallons of black crude oil on 35 miles of beaches around Santa Barbara, Capps said, “New offshore drilling would not lower gas prices, make us more energy independent or get our economy back on track.”

Richard Charter, a longtime environmental lobbyist who now works for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, called the government’s move “an extremist act.”

“What we see today is the political equivalent of a rock star trashing the hotel room right before checkout,” he said.

The Interior Department used a lapse in the congressional moratorium in October and a cancellation of a presidential prohibition in July to set in motion the lease-sale program – which the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama could cancel or proceed with.

Obama has said he would consider some offshore oil drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., Obama’s pick for interior secretary, hasn’t given his views on offshore drilling in California. He said in his confirmation hearings Thursday that he will confer with the administration’s team.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with the governors of Oregon and Washington, opposes new offshore oil drilling despite the new revenue it would offer the cash-strapped state.

The federal government has failed to make a case for a new program because energy resources are insignificant in the Atlantic, Pacific and eastern Gulf of Mexico, already-sold leases aren’t being used, and no protections are in place to protect the environment, the governors said.

In Friday’s announcement, Interior Department officials proposed three new lease sales, one in Northern California and two in Southern California in “areas with known hydrocarbon potential.” The proposals, which were based on requests from seven oil companies that weren’t named, would include:

— As many as 44 million acres of federal waters, which start 3 miles from the shoreline, off Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

— As many as 89 million acres off of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties. One lease would require equipment operating at a diagonal to drill within the Santa Barbara Ecological Preserve. In Southern California, there are 79 existing leases with 43 producing and 36 undeveloped.

There will be a 60-day comment period, with hearings in Ukiah, Fort Bragg, Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego. Dates for the hearings have not been announced.

If sales are allowed, they could occur as soon as 2014.

About 60%  of California citizens who commented on new oil-and-gas development were opposed to new drilling, according to the Interior Department’s oil-drilling agency, the Minerals Management Service.

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CBS 5 with MendoCoastCurrent edits, January 8, 2009

oil_rigNew legislation may prevent oil drilling off the California coast in Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Growing concern about the nation’s reliance on foreign oil has led to rekindled enthusiasm in some quarters for coastal oil drilling, and renewed efforts to protect the Northern California coast.

Two bills introduced when Congress convened this week place a ban on coastal oil drilling in Northern California, one by creating a marine sanctuary off the Sonoma coast. 

Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Marin and Sonoma counties attempted to push the marine sanctuary bill through when a 26-year moratorium on offshore oil drilling expired last year. 

Another bill by Rep. Mike Thompson of Northern California permanently bans drilling off the coasts of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. 

Both said without quick action, new oil rigs may soon dot California’s coast.

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ALOK JHA, Guardian UK, January 5, 2009

Tidal Energy's DeltaStream

Tidal Energy's DeltaStream

Propellers on ships have been tried and tested for centuries in the rough and unforgiving environment of the sea: now this long-proven technology will be used in reverse to harness clean energy from the UK’s powerful tides.

The tides that surge around the UK’s coasts could provide up to a quarter of the nation’s electricity, without any carbon emissions. But life in the stormy seas is harsh and existing equipment – long-bladed underwater wind turbines – is prone to failure.  A Welsh renewable energy company has teamed up with ship propulsion experts to design a new marine turbine which they believe is far more robust.

Cardiff-based Tidal Energy Limited will test a 1MW tidal turbine off the Pembrokeshire coast at Ramsey Sound, big enough to supply around 1,000 homes. Their DeltaStream device, invented by marine engineer Richard Ayre while he was installing buoys in the marine nature reserve near Pembrokeshire, will be the first tidal device in Wales and become fully operational in 2010.

To ensure the propeller and electricity generation systems were as tough as possible, the tidal turbine’s designers worked with Converteam, a company renowned for designing propulsion systems for ships. “They’ve put them on the bottom of the Queen Mary … and done work for highly efficient destroyers, which is exactly the same technology that we’re looking at here,” said Chris Williams, development director of DeltaStream.

DeltaStream’s propellers work in reverse to a ship’s propulsion system – the water turns the blades to generate electricity – but the underlying connections between blades and power systems are identical to those on the ship.

Tidal streams are seen as a plentiful and predictable supply of clean energy, as the UK tries to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Conservative estimates suggest there is at least 5GW of power, but there could be as much as 15GW – 25% of current national demand.

A single DeltaStream unit has three propeller-driven generators that sit on a triangular frame. It weighs 250 tonnes, but is relatively light compared with other tidal systems which can be several times heavier. The unit is simple to install and can be used in closely packed units at depths of at least 20m. Unlike other tidal turbine systems, which must be anchored to the sea floor using piles bored into the seabed, DeltaStream’s triangular structure simply sits on the sea floor.

Duncan Ayling, head of offshore at the British Wind Energy Association and a former UK government adviser on marine energy, said that one of the biggest issues facing all tidal-stream developers is ease of installation and maintenance of their underwater device. “Anything you put under the water becomes expensive to get to and service. The really good bit of the DeltaStream is that they can just plonk it in the water and it just sits there.”

Another issue that has plagued proposed tidal projects is concern that the whirling blades could kill marine life. But Williams said: “The blades themselves are thick and slow moving in comparison to other devices, so minimising the chance of impact on marine life.”

The device also has a fail-safe feature when the water currents become too powerful and threaten to destroy the turbines by dragging them across the sea floor – the propellers automatically tilt their orientation to shed the extra energy.

Pembrokeshire businessman and sustainability consultant Andy Middleton said: “People are increasingly recognising how serious global warming really is, and in St David’s we are keen to embrace our responsibility to minimise climate change. DeltaStream is developing into a perfect example of the technology that fills the need for green energy and has the added benefit of being invisible and reliable.”

The country’s first experimental tidal turbine began generating electricity in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland last year, built by Bristol-based company Marine Current Turbines. SeaGen began at about 150kW, enough for around 100 homes, but has now reached 1,200kW in testing. It had a setback early in its test phase, with the tidal streams breaking one of the blades in July.

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Excerpts from article by FRANK HARTZELL, The Mendocino Beacon, December 24, 2008

On January 13, 2009, from 5-7p.m. at Fort Bragg Town Hall, a “top official from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will appear to explain the agency’s strategy on developing what it calls “hydrokinetic” power as an alterative energy source.

Ann F. Miles, FERC’s director of the Division of Hydropower Licensing, will meet with county and city officials before attending the public meeting in Fort Bragg.

“The FISH Committee is looking forward to FERC’s visit, and welcomes the opportunity to learn about the different FERC licensing processes for wave energy, and how fishermen and other affected people can participate and have their voices heard,” said attorney Elizabeth Mitchell, who represents the Fisherman Involved for Safe Hydrokinetics.

Ocean waters off the Mendocino Coast, from Little River to Cleone, are now claimed under exclusive study permits by two different wave energy developers. GreenWave LLC claims 17 square miles of waters from Little River to Point Cabrillo, while PG&E claims 68 square miles from Point Cabrillo to Cleone.

Preliminary permits granted by FERC give not only exclusive study rights to the claimants, but also licensing priority to develop wave energy upon successful completion of the three-year studies.

Fort Bragg has become ground-zero for wave energy regulation. The federal Minerals Management Service, which is involved in an open feud with FERC over wave energy regulation, has sought to make Fort Bragg its test case.

FERC drew local ire by denying local efforts to intervene in the study process. At one point, protesters carried signs targeting the obscure federal agency with messages such as “Don’t FERC with us.”

One FERC insider said commissioners had complained that more fuss had been made in tiny Fort Bragg than the entire rest of the nation.

FERC later relented and on appeal granted intervener status to Mendocino County, for the PG&E project. The period to intervene and comment on GreenWave’s permit closes Friday, Feb. 6. As yet, nobody has filed anything with FERC, according to its Website.

“The commission’s existing procedures are well-established and well-suited to address this expansion of conventional hydropower with new technologies,” Miles told Congress last year, “and we are prepared to learn from experience in this rapidly evolving area and to make whatever regulatory adjustments are appropriate in order to help realize the potential of this renewable energy resource.”

FERC expanded its domain into all tidal, wave, river flow and ocean current study and licensing with its novel concept of a unified “hydrokinetic” regulation.

From the Yukon River in Alaska to the ocean currents off the Florida Keys, FERC has grown its regulatory territory dramatically since the start of the Bush administration. The agency is now explaining how dam regulation and wave energy innovation can go together. FERC recently granted the first hydrokinetic plant permit for production of energy in the Mississippi River in the state of Minnesota.

The independent agency has moved quickly with Neo-Con era disdain for regulation, eschewing calls from fellow federal and state agencies for a conventional rulemaking process. Instead FERC has adjusted its process as it goes along.

In her presentation to Congress, Miles focused on wave energy, not the more prevalent river current energy plans. She said wave energy projects will likely occur close to shore, not far out in federal waters.

“The cumulative costs of development … make it advantageous to locate projects nearer to the shore,” Miles told Congress.

Locals have complained that FERC has no intelligible process for public input. Governments and critics of FERC have been frustrated in efforts to get details.

FERC is a uniquely independent federal agency. It is under the Department of Energy but does not report to DOE, a structure that was created during the Great Depression. The president appoints FERC commissioners.

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JOHN M. BRODER, The New York Times, December 18, 2008

17transition2-6001President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Interior Department, Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, will inherit an agency demoralized by years of scandal, political interference and mismanagement.

He must deal with the sharp tension between those who seek to exploit public lands for energy, minerals and recreation and those who want to preserve the lands. He will be expected to restore scientific integrity to a department where it has repeatedly been compromised. He will be responsible for ending the department’s coziness with the industries it regulates. And he will have to work hard to overcome skepticism among many environmentalists about his views on resource and wildlife issues.

One senior Interior Department executive described the job Mr. Salazar has been chosen for as “the booby prize of the Cabinet.”

As Mr. Obama introduced Mr. Salazar and Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor tapped to be secretary of agriculture, at a press conference Wednesday in Chicago, he said their responsibility would be to balance the protection of farms and public lands against the need to find new sources of energy.

“It’s time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that’s committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families,” Mr. Obama said. “That means ensuring that even as we are promoting development where it makes sense, we are also fulfilling our obligation to protect our national treasures.”

Mr. Salazar, wearing his customary ten-gallon hat and bolo tie, said that his job entails helping the nation address climate change through a “moon shot” on energy independence. But that would include not just the development of “green” energy sources like wind power, but also the continued domestic development of coal, oil and natural gas, fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases when they are burned.

Environmental advocates offered mixed reviews of Mr. Salazar, 53, a first-term Democratic senator who served as head of Colorado’s natural resources department and as the state’s attorney general. Mr. Salazar was not the first choice of environmentalists, who openly pushed the appointment of Representative Raul Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, who has a strong record as a conservationist.

Oil and mining interests praised Mr. Salazar’s performance as a state official and as a senator, saying that he was not doctrinaire about the use of public lands. “Nothing in his record suggests he’s an ideologue,” said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association. “Here’s a man who understands the issues, is open-minded and can see at least two sides of an issue.”

Mr. Popovich noted approvingly that Mr. Salazar had tried to engineer a deal in the Senate allowing mining companies and others to reclaim abandoned mines without fear of lawsuits. (The legislation is pending.) He has also supported robust research on technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants, something the coal industry favors.

He also backed a compromise that would let oil companies drill for natural gas in limited parts of the Roan Plateau in northwestern Colorado, a plan that most environmental advocates opposed.

Mr. Salazar is a fifth-generation Coloradan who grew up on a ranch near the New Mexico border. He has been a farmer, lawyer and small-business man as well as a public servant.

Pam Kiely, program director at Environment Colorado, said Mr. Salazar had been a champion of wilderness protection and of strong water quality laws, and had raised questions about the environmental costs of oil shale development, a subject of great controversy in the Mountain West. She said he had not spoken out forcefully against oil and gas development in millions of acres of national forests and roadless areas.

“We hope he continues to play a role in ensuring that, as we develop our mineral rights in these incredibly sensitive areas, we require industry to put in place safeguards that protect our health, environment, water and air quality,” Ms. Kiely said.

Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said in a statement that Mr. Salazar understood that energy security can be achieved only by making use of all domestic energy sources, including those found on and under public lands.

“We are pleased that the president-elect has chosen someone who understands that there is a direct connection between federal lands and access to affordable, clean natural gas,” Mr. Smith said.

While industry officials praised his moderation, Mr. Salazar drew harsh criticism from some environmentalists.

“He is a right-of-center Democrat who often favors industry and big agriculture in battles over global warming, fuel efficiency and endangered species,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks endangered species and habitat issues. “He is very unlikely to bring significant change to the scandal-plagued Department of Interior. It’s a very disappointing choice for a presidency which promised visionary change.”

Daniel R. Patterson, formerly an official of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and now southwest regional director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group, said that Mr. Salazar has justifiably become the most controversial of Mr. Obama’s cabinet appointees.

“Salazar has a disturbingly weak conservation record, particularly on energy development, global warming, endangered wildlife and protecting scientific integrity,” said Mr. Patterson, who was elected last month to the Arizona House of Representatives from Tucson and who supports fellow Arizonan Mr. Grijalva for the Interior job. “It’s no surprise oil and gas, mining, agribusiness and other polluting industries that have dominated Interior are supporting rancher Salazar — he’s their friend.”

Even as Mr. Salazar navigates the department’s tricky political cross-currents, he must also deal with significant internal management challenges. Members of Congress and outside groups are calling for review of dozens of decisions made under the Bush administration on endangered species and oil and gas leasing. The senior management ranks of the department have been depleted by departures of demoralized career employees.

And the agency’s computer systems are badly in need of repair, after millions of dollars have been spent on systems that have not worked, according to several internal reports.

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JOHN KING, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 2008

dungenessThe impacts of climate change are a hot topic among scientists and environmental activists.  Now the Bay Conservation and Development Commission wants to hear from another perspective: the design community.

The state agency is preparing to launch a $125,000 competition that will invite architects, planners and engineers to bring innovative proposals “to climate proof the Bay Area,” in the words of the competition outline.

The aim isn’t to stop climate change from happening, say officials, or to build impregnable levees. The goal is to get designers thinking creatively about how to prepare for a world where the sea level might climb several feet – inundating large portions of the developed region unless something is done

“We are looking for ideas that can lead to future standards about how to deal with rising tides,” said Brad McCrea, a development design analyst for the commission. “We want to move the discussion forward.”

The commission approved a $25,000 contract with David Meckel to manage the competition. This means selecting the design jury as well as framing the rules – such as deciding whether design teams will be asked to look at specific sites or respond to broader issues.

“There’s an opportunity to suggest ideas that can be applied to our bay but have universal access,” said Meckel, whose design competition work is a sideline to his role as director of research for the California College of the Arts. “If one of the results is a solution for protecting low-lying freeways, for example, other cities are welcome to steal it.”

As now envisioned, $10,000 awards would go to each of the five entrants who present the most innovative schemes for adapting our urban region to natural changes. The current timetable calls for the competition to be launched in the spring and conclude by the end of 2009.

Given the relatively modest prize, Meckel suggested it’s unlikely that major architectural and/or engineering firms will respond.

“More likely we’d get something from three young staffers in the back room” of a large firm, said Meckel. “It’s a great way for emerging talent to step out.”

Still, commission officials say they’re looking for provocative and plausible examples of what the competition brief calls “resilient shoreline development techniques.”

“We all want it to go beyond cool-looking ideas,” McCrea said. “What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond what we think of when we talk about ‘protecting the shoreline.’ ”

The competition is the latest sign of how a commission created in 1965 to keep the bay from shrinking now grapples with the opposite problem: projections that show climate change could lift the level of the bay by more than a yard at high tide by 2050.

Left unchecked, this would submerge much of Silicon Valley as well as stretches of Highway 101 on the Peninsula. Marin County subdivisions along Richardson Bay would be imperiled; so would the Oakland and San Francisco airports.

Other coastal regions face similar impacts – which is why the commission wants the competition to have as wide an impact as possible. Current plans call for presenting the top entries in public forums and a competition catalog.

Another factor that might draw attention: the novelty.

“There’s been nothing with a focus like this that I’ve heard of in this country,” said G. Stanley Collyer, editor of Competitions, a professional quarterly.

“Ideas competitions can really have value if people take them seriously,” Collyer said. “If this one comes up with interesting ideas, it could be a model for other communities.”

“What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond ‘protecting the shoreline.’ “

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JOHN DRISCOLL, The Times-Standard, December 15, 2008

A white paper commissioned by the state of California says that tapping the ocean for power should be done carefully.

The report for the California Energy Commission and the Ocean Protection Council looked at the possible socio-economic and environmental effects of the infant industry, including what it might mean for fisheries and coastal habitat.

It also made recommendations on what research should be done to address those potential effects.

The waters remain murky in regard to what type of technology wave energy projects might use, and the scope of necessary development. The study finds that it will be key to fill in that missing information to determine what impacts they might have.

“Site selection and project scale are critical factors in anticipating these potential effects,” the report reads.

Depending on their size and location, the study reads, commercial and sport fisheries might be impacted, but new projects would yield construction and operations jobs for nearby communities.

But projects could also interfere with wave shoaling and beach building by stripping some energy out of waves, and that in turn could affect species from the high tide line out to the continental shelf.

The buoys or other structures designed to convert wave power to electricity are also likely to act like artificial reefs where reef-related fish would congregate, the report reads, a change from what would typically occur in the open ocean.

Birds and marine mammals may also be affected, but likely to a small degree, the study found.

Still, the report concludes that there aren’t any dramatic impacts expected, and recommends that the push to develop projects proceed carefully, listing a slew of research that should be done to help understand the potential for problems.

Greg Crawford, an oceanographer with Humboldt State University and an author of the paper, said that much depends on what type of wave projects are employed.

“This stuff needs to be approached holistically,” Crawford said.

While some wave energy projects are beginning to be used around the world, there is little information on how durable they are over the long term.

As Crawford pointed out, they are deployed in particularly difficult and treacherous environments.

The report recommends starting small, both in the laboratory and with small-scale projects to help begin to understand the effects they might have when deployed on an industrial scale.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has won authorization from the federal government to study several areas off the Humboldt and Mendocino coasts, but the company recently ran into what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle from state utilities regulators on another project off Trinidad. In October, the California Public Utilities Commission denied the first wave power project it has ever considered, on the grounds that the Trinidad Head proposal isn’t viable, and the contract price to sell the power is too expensive.

A feud of sorts over final jurisdiction on wave energy projects persists between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Mines and Minerals Service (MMS). And it’s not clear exactly what agency would make the determination of whether the costs of projects outweigh their benefits, said HSU economist Steve Hackett, another author of the study.

“I think it’s a very daunting situation for the public utilities or a power company to take on,” Hackett said.

While environmental issues will be hashed out in an environmental analysis, economic effects should also be considered, Hackett said. That includes the detriments to a struggling fishing fleet and the upside of jobs from energy projects, he said.

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MARGOT ROOSEVELT, The Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2008

california_mapCalifornia regulators adopted the nation’s first comprehensive plan to slash greenhouse gases on December 11th and characterized it as a model for President-elect Barack Obama, who has pledged an aggressive national and international effort to combat global warming.

The ambitious blueprint by the world’s eighth-largest economy would cut the state’s emissions by 15% from today’s level over the next 12 years, bringing them down to 1990 levels.

Approved by the state’s Air Resources Board in a unanimous vote, the 134 page plan lays out targets for virtually every sector of the economy, including automobiles, refineries, buildings and landfills. It would require a third of California’s electricity to come from solar energy, wind farms and other renewable sources — far more than any state currently requires.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been a vigorous advocate of the plan, vowed that it would “unleash the full force of California’s innovation and technology for a healthier planet.”

Businesses, however, are sharply divided.

Automakers oppose California’s pending crackdown on carbon dioxide emissions from cars, a regulation that more than a dozen states have pledged to adopt. Manufacturers want regulators to lower the cost of complying, saying it will lead to billions of dollars in higher electricity costs.

“This plan is an economic train wreck waiting to happen,” James Duran of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce told the board, saying that it would cause financial hardship to minority-owned companies.

But Bob Epstein, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, led a coalition of energy, technology and Hollywood executives, including Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, in endorsing the plan as a spur to the state’s lagging economy.

Investors have poured $2.5 billion into California cleantech companies in the first nine months of the year, up from $1.8 billion for all of 2007, he said, a level that eclipsed the software industry.

“This plan is a clear signal to investors to invest in California,” Epstein said.

Schwarzenegger, a sharp critic of President Bush’s opposition to climate legislation, said, “When you look at today’s depressed economy, green tech is one of the few bright spots out there.”

California’s plan will be “a road map for the rest of the nation,” he predicted.

After an aborted attempt last spring, Congress is expected to renew its efforts to craft climate legislation next year. Many of the elements in contention are addressed in California’s blueprint, including a cap and trade program that would allow industries to reduce emissions more cheaply.

In 18 months of public hearings and workshops, hundreds of people testified and more than 43,000 comments were submitted. More than 250,000 copies of the plan have been viewed or downloaded from the air board’s website in the last two months.

The state’s blueprint will be implemented over the next two years through industry specific regulations. Republican legislators have called on Schwarzenegger to delay the plan, citing the dire state of California’s economy and criticism of the air board’s economic models.

Fears were also expressed by city and county officials who said the plan’s effort to force land use changes infringes on local powers. Environmentalists want more ambitious strategies to curb the sprawl that has led to a rapid increase in driving, and thus in greenhouse gases.

Worldwide, emissions of planet warming gases, which are mainly formed by burning fossil fuels, have been growing far more rapidly than scientists had predicted. California is expected to experience severe damage from climate change by mid-century, including water shortages from a shrinking snowpack, increased wildfires, rising ocean levels and pollution aggravating heat waves.

Given the state’s fast growing population and sprawling suburban development, its emissions are on track to increase by 30% over 1990 levels by 2020. The new blueprint would slash the state’s carbon footprint over the next 12 years by a total of 174 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — the equivalent of 4 metric tons for every resident.

Despite the reach of the state’s effort, it would barely make a dent in global warming: The state’s emissions account for about 1.5% of the world’s emissions. Nonetheless, air board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said California’s leadership has spurred other states to move ahead. “We are filling a vacuum left by inaction at the federal level,” she said.

More than two dozen states have committed to capping emissions since California passed its landmark 2006 global warming law, the trigger for this action by the Air Resources Board.

California has joined with four Canadian provinces and seven western states to form a regional cap and trade program. Under the program, the states would set a total allowable amount of emissions — as California did in its blueprint. Utilities and other large industries would be required to obtain allowances to cover their emissions. If companies cut emissions more than required, they can sell their extra emission reductions to firms that are not able to meet their targets.

A cap and trade system has been adopted in Europe, where it was initially fraught with logistical problems and afforded windfall profits to many industries. California’s system, which would apply to industries responsible for 85% of its emissions, is the most controversial aspect of its plan.

Groups representing low income residents of polluted urban areas testified that allowing industries to trade in emissions would lead to dirtier plants in their neighborhoods. Under California’s plan, industries would also be allowed to buy “offsets” — emission reductions from projects in other states, or possibly foreign nations, to avoid making their own reductions.

However, the board assuaged many environmentalists Thursday when it pledged that it would gradually move toward a system to auction 100% of greenhouse gas permits, rather than give the permits away for free, as was initially the case in Europe.

Bernadette del Chiaro, an energy analyst for Environment California, predicted the auctions could bring in $1 billion at the outset and up to $340 million per year by 2020.

“This is huge,” she said. “Revenue from polluters would be used to transit to a green economy.”

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TED NESI, Providence Business News, December 5, 2008

riThe list of suitors lining up to develop renewable energy projects off Rhode Island’s coastal waters is getting longer.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has begun reviewing a permit application from Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Co., a year-old company based in Seattle, to build 100 large towers that would generate electricity from wave energy and wind turbines. The towers, which Grays Harbor says would use the same support technology as offshore oil platforms, would be located in a 96-square-mile area of federal waters 12 to 25 miles to the south of Block Island. Wind turbines could be placed on top of the towers, although that would require a separate application process. The company estimates the total cost of the project would be between $400 million and $600 million.

Grays Harbor asserts that the structures, known as Oscillating Water Columns, “will be visible from shore for only a few days a year under extremely clear visibility conditions.”

The company also says it will not need to utilize the entire 96 square miles designated in its federal permit. Instead, it will determine which section of that area would be the most conducive to wind-energy generation.

News of the proposed project comes as state officials continue work on an Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) for the coastal waters off Rhode Island – a project undertaken in part to facilitate permitting of a $1.5-billion offshore wind farm backed by Gov. Donald L. Carcieri. However, the project proposed by Grays Harbor is outside the area to be covered by the Ocean SAMP.

Rhode Island officials said the company’s application took them by surprise: Grover Fugate, executive director of the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, found out about it when the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) forwarded a copy of the document to him as a courtesy.

“It was news to us, when we heard from MMS,” said Laura Ricketson-Dwyer, spokeswoman for CRMC. “But that’s not totally uncommon,” since the CRMC does not have jurisdiction over federal waters. “FERC did not have to notify us.”

The electricity would be transmitted from the converters into an offshore substation, and then the power would be sent to Block Island via a single transmission cable buried about three feet beneath the sea floor. Part of that energy would be used on Block Island, which has some of the highest electricity costs in the country, and the rest would be transmitted to the mainland, coming ashore in the Narragansett village of Jerusalem.

Grays Harbor says it is already in negotiations “with a consortium of local utilities and companies” for them to purchase electricity from the project, and says existing overhead cables could handle the additional load it creates.

Although local officials have doubts about the prospects for wave energy here, Grays Harbor says prior research has given the company confidence it could work in the area. “The site proposed therefore is not speculative,” Grays Harbor president W. Burton Hamner wrote in a letter to FERC Secretary Magalie Salas. “It is the best place for the only technology package we believe will work in that region.” Hamner’s company cites a 2004 study published by the Electric Power Research Institute that said a 100-megawatt wave energy project would be competitive with a 100-megawatt wind farm. But that study looked at wave-energy resources in Massachusetts, not Rhode Island, and Grays Harbor acknowledges in its permit that “Rhode Island wave energy is less than [in] Massachusetts.”

Grays Harbor is specifically applying for a preliminary permit from FERC, which would allow the company to do in-depth research on the project for three years. From there, the company would apply for a pilot project permit, which would allow it to build a 5-megawatt demonstration version of the project. If the pilot project is successful, the company would apply for a standard 30-year FERC permit to build the full-scale development. If all were to go as Grays Harbor hopes, the company expects to have the 5-megawatt demonstration project up and running in 2011, with the full project to follow in 2016.

Grays Harbor cited two issues that could hamper the project: One is the structures’ possible impact on navigation lanes, although the company downplayed the likelihood of that being a problem. The other is the project’s possible impact on fishermen.

“There is no question that where there are wave-energy systems, recreational and commercial fishing will be affected,” the company says in its application. “This is unavoidable because of the conflicting use of the ocean space.” To reduce the project’s impact on fisheries, Grays Harbor said it is considering turning the wave structures into “artificial reefs … that can support fish and other marine organisms.”

The public has until January 28, 2009 to comment on the proposal at the commission’s web site.  The permit application for the Rhode Island offshore wave energy project was filed by Grays Harbor on October 22 and processed by FERC on November 28.

On the same day it submitted its application to develop the Block Island project, Grays Harbor filed applications for nearly identical projects off Cape Cod, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and San Francisco and Ventura, Calif.

And in July, the company was granted a preliminary FERC permit for a similar project in Washington state. “Our intention in applying for nearly identical projects in several sites is to achieve significant economics of scale in site evaluation and to help federal agencies develop effective agreements regarding management of ocean renewable-energy projects,” Hamner wrote in his letter to Salas.

But all the projects depend in part on the outcome of a bureaucratic turf war between two federal agencies:

  • The MMS, which was granted jurisdiction over most offshore energy projects by a 2005 federal energy law to the MMS, but which is still completing its final regulations for offshore projects.
  • And the FERC, which already has jurisdiction over inland hydroelectric projects, and this fall asserted its right to review and permit wave-energy projects as well.

Unsurprisingly, Grays Harbor has sided with FERC and agreed that the commission has authority over wave-energy projects. But the company also said the MMS still has jurisdiction over leasing the area in question – an issue the FERC has promised to work out.

In its permit application, Grays Harbor promised to work closely with state and local authorities. The company raised the prospect of establishing public development authorities with area communities to establish co-ownership of the project, and also says it “will develop a Settlement Agreement with stakeholders.”

Grays Harbor also pledged to hire local workers for the project, if possible. “The Providence area has capabilities for manufacturing wave energy converters and every attempt will be made to locally construct the machinery needed for the project,” the company says in its application.

Ricketson-Dwyer, the CRMC spokeswoman, said she is not surprised to see more companies moving quickly to develop ocean-energy projects. “People are – no pun intended – entering the waters here and getting into this.”

The CRMC plans to keep an eye on what happens over the next few weeks, she said, adding: “It’s really to early for us to even know if we have any role in any of this.” Meanwhile, Ricketson-Dwyer said, the proposal underlines the need to finish the state’s Ocean SAMP, in order to streamline the permitting process for offshore energy projects.

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